Simran Preet Singh Lamba has become the US Army’s first enlisted Sikh soldier in about 30 years to go through basic combat training without having to shed his turban and other articles of faith. Lamba was granted a rare exemption to wear his turban and beard. The exemption is from a rigidly followed US Army policy that came into force in 1981, effectively preventing Sikhs from enlisting. The 26-year-old Lamba was recruited in 2009 through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) programme essentially for his language skills in Hindi and Punjabi. On Wednesday, he completed his basic training with his turban and beard intact.
Lamba came to the US about four years ago and earned his master’s degree in industrial engineering at New York University. The US Army has two Sikhs who became medical officers over the past year, but it hasn’t had one in the enlisted ranks. Although Lamba was initially told that his Sikh articles of faith would be accommodated, his formal request on this score was denied. Lamba then appealed the decision and his appeal was accepted. Lamba wore a helmet over a small turban during field exercises.The US Army used to have a substantial number of Sikh soldiers early on, with many serving as far back as World War I.But the Army’s 1981 stipulation banning conspicuous religious articles of faith, including turbans and unshorn hair, dissuaded Sikhs from joining the force.