First turbaned Sikh since 1981 completes US Army training

First turbaned Sikh since 1981 completes US Army training

First turbaned Sikh since 1981 completes US Army training

US Army Capt Tejdeep Singh Rattan with other graduates during a graduation ceremony in San Antonio. AP

Rattan, a dentist by profession, graduated from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas making him the first Sikh officer in a generation to complete the basic training with his turban and beard intact.

"I am overjoyed to serve my country, work with my fellow soldiers, and to have completed basic training," said Rattan.

"Most importantly, in preparation for my work as a soldier, I was able to successfully complete all aspects of my initial training. I had an overwhelmingly positive experience. I am very thankful to the base command, Army leadership, and my fellow soldiers. I look forward to continuing to serve my country," he said.

Recruited to join the Army's Health Professions Scholarship Program several years ago, Captain Rattan maintained his turban throughout his dental education.
However, after completing his education, he was told that he must remove his religiously-mandated turban and unshorn hair before he began active duty.

Last April, he submitted a request to the Army asking that he be allowed to maintain his turban and beard while serving the Army. In December, the Army granted his request.
Contrary to the concerns of some, Captain Rattan was able to meet all requirements of a solider during basic training, said a statement issued by the Sikh Coalition, which took up the issue of Sikhs joining the US Army with their religious identity intact.

During training Capt Rattan wore a helmet over a small turban during field exercises. During gas mask exercises, he successfully created a seal. He also built strong bonds with the soldiers in his platoon.

"We are pleased to learn that Tejdeep's experience demonstrates that Sikh service in the US Army meets military necessity," said Harsimran Kaur, Legal Director, Sikh Coalition.
"Turbaned Sikhs previously served the United States' military with distinction in every major armed conflict over the past 100 years.

"While it is unfortunate that Sikhs were excluded from military for the past two decades, I hope we will soon turn a page and restore Sikh service in the US military," Kaur said.
In 1981, the Army banned "conspicuous" religious articles of faith for its service members. This included a ban on Sikh turbans and unshorn hair in the Army.

Noting that Sikhs freely serve in the militaries of the UK, Canada and India, and as the UN Peacekeepers, Kaur said: "Whether through Tejdeep's experience here in Fort Sam Houston or through the experience of hundreds of thousands of Sikh soldiers in militaries throughout the world, we know Sikhs are capable soldiers".
"We look forward to the day when the US Army again welcomes the service of all Sikhs.
Though Captain Rattan was successful in his requests, his accommodation applied only in his individual case.
The general policy disallowing Sikhs from maintaining their articles of faith in the military still remains in effect.