Monday, March 29, 2010

300K Sikhs in the U.S., and now there's one in the Army

News to me, but the Army has apparently started granting waivers to personal grooming policy for the first time in a quarter of a century, allowing Sikhs -- complete with uncut hair, turban, and beard -- to serve without sacrificing the tenets of their faith.
Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a 31-year-old dentist, graduated Monday at Fort Sam Houston after the Army made an exemption to a uniform policy that has effectively prevented Sikhs from enlisting since 1984. "I'm feeling very humbled. I'm a soldier," he said, grinning after the ceremony as other members of the Sikh community milled about nearby. "This has been my dream." Rattan had to get a waiver from the Army to be allowed to serve without sacrificing the unshorn hair mandated by his faith. An immigrant from India who arrived in New York as a teenager, Rattan said it was important for him to serve a country that has given him so many opportunities.
The article I've linked above has a picture of CPT Rattan at his graduation and contains a little bit of info about uniform modifications and wear:
During training, Rattan wore a helmet over the small turban, which he doesn't remove, and was able to successfully create a seal with his gas mask despite the beard, resolving the Army's safety concerns, said Harsimran Kaur, the Sikh Coalition's legal director. Rattan worked with an Army tailor to create a flash, the insignia patch worn on soldiers' berets, that could be affixed to his black turban, she said.
But the way I first found out about this whole story was coming across this picture, which is totally badass, and shows Rattan in ACUs and a Universal Camouflage Pattern-ed (UCP) turban with captain's bars on the front. Awesome.


I wonder if he carries the kirpan, the iron bracelet, and the undergarments, too? (As an aside: when I spent my fabulous summer in Quantico, a Mormon guy in my platoon got an unbelievable amount of crap from the Sergeant Instructors over his wearing of what's apparently called the Temple undergarment. Nonconformity + military = fun & yuks.)

Seriously, though, I think this Sikh thing is pretty awesome. Sikhs have a long and distinguished history of military service: while they make up only two percent of the Indian population, they account for nearly one-third of the Indian army's officer corps. The British military has managed ethno-linguistic/sectarian nonconformity in personal appearance for centuries, so you'd figure the U.S. military can sort out a way to create an effective gas mask seal around facial hair. This is a good-news story for the country and the Army.

11 comments:

  1. The comments to that post has this hilarious line:

    "Only in America would it be news that a Sikh is an Army Officer."

    My ethno-linguistic/sectarian tribe serves in large numbers in the Army, or so Wiki says (look up Haryana.)

    - Madhu

    *And that's it for me today, I think!

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  2. Ok, that's a great picture. It actually hadn't occurred to me that this would be an issue here. Glad it's fixed.

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  3. It's amazing how we got this far without Sikhs in our military? Saratoga, Yorktown, New Orleans, Gettysburg, Shiloh, San Juan Hill, Meuse-Argonne, Normandy, etc....

    America sure sucked before we got Sikhs.

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  4. I was referring to the Indian Army above, naturally.

    "America sure sucked before we got Sikhs."

    Huh, where did that come from Anonymous? Who ever said that? Like, hello, huge fan of America (being an American) and American exceptionalism here.

    The quote I highlighted was really referring to a facet of Indian culture and poking gentle fun at that.

    Geez.

    - Madhu

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  5. I recall seeing a doctor in the California National Guard with the ACU turban - I always assumed he was Sikh.

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  6. "...so you'd figure the U.S. military can sort out a way to create an effective gas mask seal around facial hair."

    No, not really. He's basically going to die if his unit gets gassed. He could probably use a disposable mask that has a neck-dam, like they have in the Pentagon and Congress as "emergency use" masks, but that's only a 15-minute solution. Molecules of gas and 2-5 micron-sized organisms really don't need much to get past a mask that is leaking due to lack of a seal caused by beards.

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  7. No, not really. He's basically going to die if his unit gets gassed. He could probably use a disposable mask that has a neck-dam, like they have in the Pentagon and Congress as "emergency use" masks, but that's only a 15-minute solution. Molecules of gas and 2-5 micron-sized organisms really don't need much to get past a mask that is leaking due to lack of a seal caused by beards.

    I'll take your word for this, even though the article says that he was able to demonstrate a seal to the extent required to pass gas mask training in boot camp.

    Good thing he's a dentist and not a rifleman at the Somme!

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  8. The point of the gas chamber isn't to verify that you'll survive a gas attack. It's just to instill confidence in your mask and demonstrate that you can properly don it and breath. Like everything else in the Army, the task-conditions-standard methodology has slowly divorced itself from any practical application. Sure, he'll succumb to the chemical attack, but at least he'll be confident up until the moment that he starts doing the floppy chicken dance. So the ARTEP is a success.

    Nonconformity + military = fun & yuks

    As a professional courtesy, I figure that I'll give some advance notice. I'm going to plagiarize that at some point.

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  9. "though the article says that he was able to demonstrate a seal to the extent required to pass gas mask training"

    Not knowing the details, there probably are some work-arounds for short-term exposure. Putting vaseline in one's beard might allow a good seal to exist. Have to think about that one.

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  10. Nice! Some brains at the pentagon. :-)

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  11. If you haven't tried to grow a full beard and enter the gas hut and attempt the gas drills, then you should think before you give such an unexperienced answer.

    I've entered the gas hut with a beard and completed the drills without incident. The problem is: people haven't spent the time to actually grow a beard and try it. Based on hearsay and being brainwashed, they assume that it is not possible.

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