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US decorated Sikh Soldier presses for end to ban on Sikh Military service

June 2, 2013 | By

Washington, DC, United States (June 1, 2013): According to a newsletter issued by the Sikh Coalition: Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi – a decorated US Army soldier who in 2009 received an exception to a decades-old rule barring Sikh turbans and unshorn hair – provided compelling testimony yesterday about why the US military should open its doors to Sikh soldiers at a United States Civil Rights Commission hearing.

Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi

Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi

“The time has come and passed for our military to openly embrace those Sikhs who want to serve our country by removing the rules that exclude them,” said Major Kalsi at yesterday’s hearing.

In 1981, the United States military banned new Sikh soldiers from maintaining their religiously-mandated turbans and unshorn hair. Previously, turbaned Sikhs had been serving in the United States military since World War I. In 2009 and 2010, the United States Army agreed to individual exceptions for three Sikh soldiers so that they could maintain their religious articles of faith while serving their country. All three accommodated Sikh soldiers — Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, and Specialist Simran Preet Lamba —- are clients of the Sikh Coalition.

Major Kalsi received the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Afghanistan. In support of the award, an official recommendation from Major Kalsi’s superiors cites his resuscitation of two patients who were clinically dead on arrival; his “expert” emergency care of over 750 soldiers and civilians; and his general “commitment and leadership above and beyond that of his general duties.”

During yesterday’s testimony, Major Kalsi made clear that Sikh practices do not prevent soldiers from performing with excellence: “By making this call to end the presumptive ban on Sikh military service, let me make clear that I would never advocate for anything that would put my fellow soldiers in harm’s way,” said Major Kalsi. “If Sikhs could not wear helmets or gas masks when required, I would never call on my military to accommodate Sikh American soldiers. But that is simply not the case. Sikh soldiers have served on special forces teams. They have jumped out of airplanes as paratroopers, and have deployed in far forward combat operations. We can serve our country and be Sikh at the same time.”

The Sikh Coalition has spearheaded the fight to end the presumptive ban on Sikh military service in the US since 2009. While the Sikh Coalition applauds the individual accommodations made by the US Army for its three Sikh clients, the Sikh Coalition calls on the US military to eliminate the presumptive prohibition on Sikh American service in our military.

“If our military needs ‘proof of concept’ that Sikhs can serve with excellence, it needs to look no further than Major Kalsi, Captain Rattan, and Specialist Lamba,” said Amardeep Singh, Program Director of the Sikh Coalition. “In the last year we’ve thankfully seen the military end bans on openly gay service members and females in combat positions. It’s time to end the Sikh ban as well. It’s critical that our military looks like the America it serves and that it embodies America’s core founding principle that it matters not who you are but what you do. Major Kalsi made clear today that Sikhs can excel as soldiers. The time has come and passed to start welcoming them into our military.”

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