Sikhs Regain Right To Wear Turbans In U.S. Army

U.S. Army Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, center wearing turban, stands with other graduates. i i

U.S. Army Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, wearing a turban, stands with other graduates as they sing "The Army Goes Rolling Along" during a U.S. Army officer basic training graduation ceremony at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio on Monday. Darren Abate/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Darren Abate/AP
U.S. Army Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, center wearing turban, stands with other graduates.

U.S. Army Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, wearing a turban, stands with other graduates as they sing "The Army Goes Rolling Along" during a U.S. Army officer basic training graduation ceremony at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio on Monday.

Darren Abate/AP

U.S. Army Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan is making history.

This week, Rattan, who is an American Sikh, completed his nine-week basic officer training course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio — making him the first American Sikh officer in the U.S. Army in more than 25 years.

While Sikhs used to serve in the Army while observing their religion's requirements for wearing turbans and not shaving their hair and beards, the Army eliminated the exemption in 1984.

Until now. After much advocacy from the Sikh community, the Army relented for Rattan and for a fellow Sikh who will be trained as a medic this summer.

"It was definitely a very humbling experience," Rattan tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "I have a lot of responsibilities on my shoulder. Not even as a soldier, but as a Sikh."

Rattan wears a fatigue-colored turban, and when he needs to wear a helmet, he puts on a mini-turban underneath it. He says he's gotten a positive response from other officers in training.

"They've been obviously very curious because they have not seen any Sikhs serving in the military," he says. "A lot of questions have been asked, and I definitely have a good opportunity to explain myself — to educate my fellow soldiers. They're more than willing to listen to me, and they're very supportive. ... So, I'm very proud."

Rattan was born in India, came to New York as a teenager and studied engineering and then dentistry. He says it has always been his dream to be in the military.

"The reason I wanted to do it was I was educated here, I made friends here, I have my life here," Rattan says. "You can always pay back a little bit. The way you can pay is to serve."

For Rattan, it was more than simply getting the recognition for being a Sikh.

"It gave me the opportunity to be who I was: a saint-soldier," he says. "I'm an American soldier now."

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