Thanking the Pentagon for allowing Sikhs back into the US Military

2nd Lt. Gurjiwan Singh Chahal – UA Military Academy, West Point, NY

The American Sikh Council (ASC) would like to congratulate Gurjiwan Singh Chahal who graduated from the prestigious United States Military Academy famously known as West Point, NY. Gurjiwan Singh Chahal is one of the first two Sikh cadets ever, who have gone through the military academy’s rigorous training in its 215-year-old history with their articles of faith intact. The other Sikh who also graduated requested privacy for personal reasons did not want to be highlighted.

The American Sikh Council remembers the critical, groundbreaking work put in to reach this moment. The ASC appreciates the willingness, empathy and proactive stance of the Pentagon who originally approached the American Sikh Council in late 2007 to find a way to accommodate Sikh Americans in the armed forces while maintaining their articles of faith. Starting in 2008, after nearly a full year of ongoing meetings between senior US Army brass, including their chaplain(s) and representatives of the American Sikh Council which culminated in a very engaging and fruitful dialog. The very positive result of this confidential engagement resulted in lifting the 24-year ban on religious articles of faith by the Reagan administration since 1982 in the US Armed Forces. This historic collaboration between the American Sikh Council (ASC) and the Pentagon led to the first thre Sikhs gaining their accommodation – by Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Tejdeep Singh Rattan, Simranjeet Singh Lamba, all in quick succession in early 2009. The pentagon had specifically requested ASC to keep all meetings and discussions confidential, which we did for a very long time.

Sikhs have been part of the US military for over a century with a slow and steady stream of Sikh Americans being recruited into the various branches of the US Armed Forces. Fully identifiable Sikhs served in all branches of the US Armed Forces till 1982. History has a strange way of repeating itself. Sikhs have been the backbone of many armies across the diaspora for the last 170 plus years, yet have had to fight many legal battles to simply be allowed to serve in the various countries wherever they live.

Due to the foundational work by ASC and later other orgs, distinguished US Army officers like Lt.Col Sukhdev Singh Purewal (West Point graduate – 2001) and Major Simratpal Singh (West Point graduate – 2010) were able to regain their identity and dignity, making the entire ‘Sikh panth’ proud of them!

Today there are many practicing Sikhs in the US Armed Forces, mainly the US Army. The American Sikh Council looks forward to seeing more Sikh Americans take the initiative to answer the call of duty and enter public service. By choosing a career path in public service we can collectively challenge the norm in America and make this country a better place for all Americans.

Though there is still work to be done, the barriers against the Sikh religious articles of faith are coming down and accommodation is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

The American Sikh Council (ASC) wants to thank the Pentagon for reopening the door to Sikh-Americans practicing their faith and being able to serve their country, like every other American and normalizing a constitutional right.

Leave a Reply