By Annie Karni | UNITED STATES |
WASHINGTON — When President Trump takes the stage on Saturday to deliver the commencement speech at West Point, one of the new Army officers he will be addressing will be an Indian-American woman breaking a barrier as old as the 218-year-old military academy.
The woman, Anmol Narang, 23, a newly minted second lieutenant, will become the first observant Sikh to graduate from the United States Military Academy, a milestone that comes as racism appears to be on the rise within the military’s ranks and as Sikhs still face discrimination in some of its branches.
With the exception of the Army and the Air Force, the military largely prohibits its members from serving with turbans, unshorn hair or unshorn beards — all of which are articles of faith for Sikhs.
Lieutenant Narang, who grew up in Roswell, Ga., said military service was always in her blood. “My grandfather was in the Indian Army,” she said in an interview. “It was always a big part of my life and something I was always interested in.”
She recalled mailing her application to West Point from a hotel in Hawaii during her junior year in high school. She had just visited the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and felt inspired to serve.
While Lieutenant Narang is the first observant Sikh to graduate from the academy, she is not the first Sikh cadet to do so.
During his time as a West Point cadet, Simratpal Singh cut his hair short and kept his beard shorn. Having to do so caused him “significant shame,” according to a lawsuit he filed against the Defense Department in 2016, after he had become an Army captain. He was seeking an accommodation so he could practice his religion and serve in the military.
After West Point, Lieutenant Narang plans to attend a basic officer leadership course. In early January, she is expected to assume her first post at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
See full story, ‘Latest Crop of West Point Graduates Includes First Observant Sikh Cadet’ (The New York Times, 12 June 2020), here.
US Air Force issues new guidelines for beards, turbans and hijabs (Asia Samachar, 14 Feb 2020)