For the first time since 1984, a turbaned Sikh, Captain Rattan, has graduated from officer training to become a captain in the US army. For the past twenty six years Sikhs had to choose between their turbans (and beards) and joining the military, though prior to this it wasn’t such an issue. There has been no policy change as such, but the army is entitled to grant individual officers waivers. Captain Rattan, a dentist, was given one, probably in part because his skills are in short supply on the front line. Another Sikh, due to graduate as a doctor, has also received a waiver. Potential safety issues were also resolved through testing and modification:
During training, Rattan wore a helmet over the small turban, which he doesn’t remove, and was able to successfully create a seal with his gas mask despite the beard, resolving the Army’s safety concerns, said Harsimran Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director.
Rattan worked with an Army tailor to create a flash, the insignia patch worn on soldiers’ berets, that could be affixed to his black turban, she said.
We covered this a while ago, and I am glad that they received exemptions. I hope that this will eventually lead to a wider policy change, as Captain Rattan has shown that there isn’t any operational disadvantage to having a turban and beard. Nor would such a change bother non-Sikh soldiers in the US military, if the British experience is anything to go by.
To quote the British general Sir Frank Walter Messervy:
In the last two World Wars 83,005 turban-wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the World, enduring shell fire with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.
(Via Sepia Mutiny)
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Filed in: Sikh,United States