*

 

3.23.2010

sikh man graduates from u.s. army officer school

Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a 31-year-old dentist, is the first Sikh in a generation allowed to complete U.S. Army officer basic training without sacrificing the articles of his faith: 1st Sikh in decades graduates Army officer school.

Rattan graduated Monday at For Sam Houston after the Army made an exemption to a uniform policy that has effectively prevented Sikhs form enlisting since 1984. He was wearing standard issue fatigues, but also, in accordance with his faith, he was wearing a turban and full beard.
Rattan had to get a waiver from the Army to be allowed to serve without sacrificing the unshorn hair mandated by his faith. An immigrant from India who arrived in New York as a teenager, Rattan said it was important for him to serve a country that has given him so many opportunities.

The Army in 1984 eliminated an exemption that had previously allowed Sikhs to maintain their articles of faith while serving, but officials can issue individual waivers to the uniform policy after considering the effects on safety and discipline, said Army spokesman George Wright. Only a handful of such individual religious exemptions are ever granted.

Rattan and Dr. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, who will attend basic training this summer after completing an emergency medicine fellowship, are the first Sikhs to receive exemptions in more than 25 years.

Rattan and Kalsi both offer health care skills that are in high demand in an Army stretched by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

1st Sgt. Jeffrey DeGarmo said he made sure the officers-in-training in his unit understood that Rattan wasn't a foreign national and had received the Army's permission to maintain his beard and turban. Once the other soldiers understood that, there were no issues, he said.

"It went pretty well," DeGarmo said. "I think he did an outstanding job adjusting."
Rattan sounds like an intelligent, capable soldier with valuable skills the Army needs. It would be a shame and a waste to bar a guy like him from serving because of his religious observances. Hopefully, this sets a precedent that will lead not only for further exemptions, but an official change in Army policy.