By Jessica Manfre | UNITED STATES |
Sikhism is the fifth largest world religion, according to the Sikh Coalition, with 500,000 Sikhs living within the U.S. Among the core beliefs is service to humanity, a principle the Singh family hopes to be fulfilling through their military commitment across generations.
Air Force Reserve 2nd Lt. Naureen Singh, 26, grew up watching her father, retired Col. G.B. Singh, serve as an officer in the U.S. Army. Though he was stationed overseas in places like Korea and Germany, her parents made the decision to keep the family in Colorado Springs for stability.
When attending community group events for South Asians or Sikh, Naureen was confused about why her father was the only one in the military.
“It didn’t really click in my head that my dad is a really unique case until I got a lot older,” she said.
The distinctiveness comes into play because as a Sikh there are certain aspects to their faith that made a goal of military service difficult to obtain at the time. Those who identify as Sikh do not believe in cutting any hair on their bodies and most men wear a turban. In fact, the Sikh Coalition states 99% of the people wearing turbans in America are Sikhs.
Both the turban and unshorn hair are considered articles of faith and a constant reminder to remember their values. These two articles in particular create a barrier to a military that prides itself on uniformity.
Singh’s father pursued a commissioning in 1979. Two years later the Department of Defense banned the turban and long hair. Although he was grandfathered in, Naureen says her father felt honor bound to fight for Sikhs to be able to serve while following their faith.
“It was not easy for him. Day in and day out he had an uphill battle trying to be an officer but then also be an officer with a certain faith,” Naureen explained.
SOME NAUREEN QUOTES IN THE REST OF THE ARTICLE:
“I do think it is really important to recognize that when you are diverse of thought or of background, you bring a new voice to the table … that voice can help with mission accomplishment.”
“I was born in the states and my parents, who immigrated from India, grew up with a different outlook than mine. I was always too American for my Indian friends and too Indian for my American friends. It was so hard to see where I belonged.”
“I grew up in the shadows of 9/11. I think growing up after 9/11 and seeing how we equated the turban with terrorism in this country … Here I was trying to fit in, but in media I would see people who had turbans like my dad be projected in a very certain light. That’s why I think I shoved my identity to the side, I didn’t want to make myself stand out.”
“If you look at Sikh history and especially Sikh soldiers, it makes me meant to be in this force. It took a long time to get there though.”
“Don’t ever doubt yourself or put restrictions on yourself … Keep pushing. If my dad could do it in the 1970s, anyone can do it.”
Read the full story, ‘Sikh family balances faith, military service’ (Reserve & National Guard Magazine, 8 Sept 2020), here.
Second-gen Sikh officer in US armed forces. Proud to serve! (Asia Samachar, 7 July 2020)
I had questions from people wanting to learn more about Sikhism (Asia Samachar, 5 Oct 2017)
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