For years Sikhs have fought valiantly in the American military, Bhagat Singh Thind, Arjinderpal Singh Sekhon, and G. B. Singh among them. But things changed in the early 1980s. President Reagan instituted a new policy disallowing facial hair and head gear in the military, consequently barring Sikhs from service.
The policy remains intact a generation later, but progress has been made. In 2009 Kamaljeet Kalsi, a doctor, and Tejdeep Rattan, a dentist, received individual impermanent religious accommodations to keep their beards and turbans intact. They have since returned from deployment in Afghanistan with numerous military awards. Simranpreet Lamba became the first Sikh enlisted soldier soon after, and has received military recognition as well.
Pentagon’s arguments for their policy have proved irrelevant – all three servicemen can seal their gas masks and have not affected unit cohesion. In fact, wearing turbans helped gain Afghan trust and helped the army complete missions more effectively. With all this in mind, they, aided by the Sikh Coalition, law firms, Congress members, and public support, ask the Pentagon to change policy to permanently allow Sikhs to serve in the American military.
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