US religious waiver leads to many Sikh youths joining military

Manav Singh Sodhi, 17 (right) with Lt. Col. Kamal Kalsi, will head for training for the US Military and has received the religious waiver to keep his beard and turban while in training. Photo / courtesy Lt.Col Kamal Kalsi

WASHINGTON  (TIP): The waiver granted by the US administration has allowed more children from the minorities to join the US military. At least 14 Sikh youths have been granted this waiver.

Lt. Col Kamal Kalsi was the first to be granted the religious waiver in 2010 and it was one of the biggest changes that took place in the past 10 years.

Another Indian American, Manav Singh Sodhi, 17, has been preparing to head to a boot camp for his military training, especially because he can keep his beard and turban.

The other 13 Sikh recruits are from all around the US, Kalsi said.

“It took me a year and a half and a lot of trouble—organizing, getting 50 Congressional signatures, etc.—just to get me and Capt Tejdeep Singh Rattan, the waiver,” Kalsi said about his experience.

Sodhi, a graduate of Kings Park High School on Long Island, New York City, will shortly be on his way to bootcamp. “He wants to be where the action is, he wants to join the artillery,” Kalsi said.

In a press release from the Sikh American Veterans Association (SAVA), an organization founded by Kalsi, he said: “As the first Sikh-American in over a generation to receive a religious accommodation in the military, I feel it’s important to take  it forward and help open doors for Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and other religious minorities.”

Sodhi’s accommodation to maintain his religiously mandated beard and turban while in uniform “bodes well for our community when we can become part of the fabric of this country,” said Kalsi.

There are currently over 60 Sikh males serving in the US Army with their turbans and beards, according to SAVA.

“I wanted to join the Army ever since I was a kid.  My great-grandfather served in the Army and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. My father and mother inspired me to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what.  And that’s exactly what I did,” Sodhi is quoted as saying in the press release.

“When I was a child, my mother took me to an event at City Hall where I met Lieutenant Colonel Kalsi for the first time, and he was in his army uniform with his turban and beard. That was a life-changing moment for me because I realized then that I can freely practice my religion and serve my country too,” Sodhi is quoted as saying.

Lt Col Kalsi said the new recruit and his mother did not wish to give any press interviews but had forwarded some of his comments for the press.

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