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Rediff.com  » News » Top lawmaker lauds first turbaned Sikh army officer in US

Top lawmaker lauds first turbaned Sikh army officer in US

March 24, 2010 10:50 IST

An influential lawmaker from New York congratulated Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan for graduating from the Army Officer Course, making him the first turbaned Sikh officer to complete basic training in over two decades.

"Captain Rattan's achievement today underscores the importance of preserving diversity in our armed forces, and is a testament to one of the most fundamental values -- freedom of religion -- upon which our nation was founded and which makes the US a beacon of hope and liberty throughout the world," Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York said.

"I'm proud that Captain Rattan is continuing in the tradition of Sikh-Americans over the decades. Sikhs fought bravely in defence of our nation in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and during peacetime. I wholeheartedly congratulate him on this auspicious occasion," Maloney said in her brief speech on the floor of the US House of Representatives.

Captain Rattan was recruited and commissioned by the US Army in 2006 as a part of the Health Professionals Scholarship Program.

After completing his final year of dental school, he joined the US Army Officer Basic Course.

However, after completing his education, he was told that he must remove his religiously mandated turban and unshorn hair before he began active duty.

Last April, he submitted a request to the army asking that he be allowed to maintain his turban and beard while serving the army. In December, the army granted his request for accommodation.

In fact, Maloney led a number of House and Senate colleagues in sending letters to the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, requesting that the accommodations be made for Captain Rattan and all other Sikh Americans who wish to serve to preserve their "articles of faith" -- turban, long hair and beards.

Speaking on the floor of the House, Maloney said Captain Rattan was assured by the army recruiters that his articles of faith would be accommodated, only to later be informed that he must abandon his Sikh articles of faith in order to continue his duties as an army officer.

"After learning of his case, I led a number of my House and Senate colleagues in sending letters to Secretary Gates requesting that the accommodations be made for Captain Rattan and all other Sikh Americans who wish to serve. Thanks in part to our efforts, Captain Rattan's accommodation request was granted," she said.

"I am grateful to Secretary Gates, and then secretary of the army Pete Geren, for reviewing and ultimately granting the accommodation".

"They have both shown tremendous foresight in recognizing that our nation's 21st century fighting force should incorporate all aspects of American society," she said and added that at present, Sikhs serve in the militaries of Great Britain, Canada, and India, among others, and as United Nations Peacekeepers -- often working closely with American troops in troubled regions.

"Throughout our nation's history, the military has succeeded in training individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities to achieve one, unifying goal: to protect and defend the US".

"By denying Sikh officers the ability to appropriately practice their religion while serving, the army denies itself access to the important talents and abilities of these individuals who are willing to fight and die for our nation," she said.

Noting that no American should have to choose between his religion and service to the country, she said at a time when this country is fighting two wars overseas, the US can ill-afford to turn away skilled, accomplished, and patriotic young Americans like Captain Rattan who wish to serve.

"Secretary Gates, and then secretary of the army Pete Geren, are to be commended for reviewing and ultimately granting the accommodation, the lawmaker said.

"They have both shown tremendous foresight in recognizing that our nation's 21st century fighting force should incorporate all aspects of American society," she said.

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