14 Sikh High Schoolers Get Waivers to Enter Army Basic With Beard, Turban

Army Lt. Col....

Following graduation this June, Manav Sodhi will help lead a new wave of Sikh soldiers enlisting in the U.S. Army who will be allowed to wear the traditional turban and beard in Basic Combat Training.

Sodhi, who is currently attending Kings Park High School in New York, was recently granted a religious accommodation by the Army, according to the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA).

"I wanted to join the Army ever since I was a kid," Sodhi said in a recent SAVA news release. "My great grandfather served in the Army, and I wanted to follow his footsteps."

Practicing Sikhs serving in the Army are nothing new, but SAVA's release states that Sodhi is the first high school student to receive a religious accommodation so he can enlist in the Army as a Sikh...

..."That came after many, many years of effort," he said. "Right now, our focus is to help open doors in the other branches of service."

Currently, there are no turban and beard waivers for religious freedom in the other services, but there are many Sikh men and women serving in uniform, Kalsi said, noting that it is easier for Sikh women since wearing a turban is optional for them.

Still, many Sikh service members have told SAVA they would like to see a policy change across the services, Kalsi said. "Many of them bemoan the current policy that doesn't allow them to keep their religious traditions."

Wearing a beard and turban is "critical because it is really part of our identity as Sikhs," he said.

"It's also part of our American upbringing to be able to practice our faith; you know religion freedom is a critical part of being an American," Kalsi said. "It's important to fight for the things you believe in, and religious freedom is one of those things."...

...Military service has always been a proud tradition in Sikh culture, Kalsi said, adding that more than 80,000 Sikh soldiers died serving alongside allied forces in World War I and World War II.

"The Germans were actually terrified of the Sikh regiments in World War I; they referred to [Sikhs] as the black lions," he said. "If we were good enough to fight in a world war and die in the trenches, then I think we are good enough to continue to serve today."

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