New Delhi: A second-generation Indian immigrant will Saturday become the first observant Sikh to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Anmol Narang, 23, holds the rank of second lieutenant. While she is the first observant Sikh to graduate from the academy, she isn’t the first Sikh. According to a report in The New York Times about Narang, Sikh man Simratpal Singh “cut his hair short and kept his beard shorn” while at the academy, in keeping with US military guidelines. He subsequently moved court and secured an exemption to wear a turban and beard, as required by the Sikh faith.
Speaking to The New York Times, Narang said she had learnt to tie her knee-length hair in a bun tight enough to adhere to the US army guidelines, that is, no larger than 3.5 inches in diameter. This means that she didn’t require any “religious accommodation”.
News agency PTI quoted Narang as saying in a statement that she is “excited and honoured to be fulfilling my dream of graduating from West Point”.
“The confidence and support of my community back home in Georgia has been deeply meaningful to me, and I am humbled that in reaching this goal, I am showing other Sikh Americans that any career path is possible for anyone willing to rise to the challenge,” she said.
A military family
Narang’s grandfather had served in the Indian Army and that is what inspired her to join the US military.
“My grandfather was in the Indian Army. It was always a big part of my life and something I was always interested in,” she was quoted as saying in the NYT.
Narang will complete her Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, after which she will report to the Kadena air base in Okinawa, Japan, in January 2021 for her first posting. She hopes to pursue a career in air defence systems.
She reportedly attended one year of undergraduate study at the Georgia Institute of Technology before transferring to West Point, where she proceeded to study nuclear engineering and pursue a career path in air defence systems.
Over the years, the US Army and the US Air Force have changed their policies to allow members to wear articles of faith such as turbans and unshorn hair. However, it’s still a work in progress for other branches of the military, the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
The US has an estimated 5,00,000 Sikh-Americans.
The NYT quoted West Point spokeswoman Katie Felder as saying that diversity “must never be an afterthought”. It must be a thoughtful and purposeful approach to ensure that “we get the right talent and the right mix of talent that will represent the nation we are sworn to defend”, she added.