Reversing its 23-year-old policy, the US army decided to allow a Sikh Officer to serve in active service with his religiously-mandated turban and beard, a Sikh advocacy group claimed.
Though the decision in Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi's case provides only a one-time accommodation, Army leadership has affirmatively indicated a willingness to review the general policy barring Sikhs from service, it claimed.
Kalsi, a doctor, was recruited to join the Army's Health Professions Scholarship Programme several years ago. However he spotted his turban throughout his eight years of medical education, which included specialised Army training, attendance at Army ceremonies and work in military medical facilities.
However, after completing the programme, he was told he must remove his turbans and cut his unshorn hair to begin active duty. Kalsi then appealed to Army leadership to end its policy of excluding Sikhs from service.
"The Army's decision is a major step towards ending a 23-year-old policy that excludes Sikhs from active service," Sikh Coalition, a Washington-based Sikh-advocacy group said.
The decision lends hope to all those Sikhs who want to serve their country while observing their faith, it said.
Captain Kalsi said, "I am overjoyed by the Army's decision to allow me to serve my country. Like the many Sikhs who fought before me, I know Iwill serve America with honour and excellence."
In August, 43 members of the House of Representatives and six US Senators called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to allow all Sikhs to serve in the US Army.
The efforts were led by Senators Robert Menendez and Kirsten Gillibrand in the Senate and Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen and Carolyn Maloney in the House.
"I am gratified that the Army has recognized Captain Kalsi's commitment to his faith and his desire to serve our nation in uniform," said Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.
"As our Army increasingly engages the world, our engagement is enhanced by having a military that reflects both America's and the world's diversity," he said.
Captain Kalsi was represented in his appeal by the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and the Sikh Coalition.
Another case that was before the US Army's consideration is an appeal by Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a Sikh dentist, who requested that he be able to maintain his articles of faith.
The Army today deferred a decision in Captain Rattan's matter until he completes his dental education. PTI