An Indian-American woman has made history at the West Point Military Academy by becoming the first observant Sikh to graduate from the venerable 218-year-old institution.
Anmol Narang, 23 and from Georgia, graduated as a second lieutenant this weekend alongside 1100 other cadets, 230 of whom were women.
Lieutenant Narang told reporters that military service was “always a big part of my life and something I was always interested in”, especially as her grandfather had served in the Indian Army.
The various arms of the US Military largely prohibits its members from serving with turbans or uncut hair or beards, with the exceptions of the Army and the Air Force.
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, which are religious requirements for observant Sikhs.
Under army regulations a woman’s hair must be tied into a bun with a maximum diameter of 3.5 inches, a regulation which caused some initial problems for Lieutenant Narang who has never cut her hair and which hands down past her knees.
However she says, she did not need to apply for a religious exception to the rule as she managed to create a bun tight enough to meet the 3.5 inch rule requirement.
After graduation and undergoing an officer leadership course, Lieutenant Narang is expected to be posted to the US Army base in Okinawa, Japan.
Sikhs have historically had to battle harder than most others to serve in the US Military whilst also observing their faith.
Perhaps the most famous example is that of Simratpal Singh, who started at West Point in 2007. At the time, beards and long hair were not permitted and Simratpal Singh had to make what he described as the “difficult” choice of shaving his beard and cutting his hair – a decision which caused him “significant shame” according to a lawsuit he subsequently filed against the Department of Defence.
Captain Singh was ultimately granted an exception to serve while wearing a turban and a beard and went on to earn a Bronze Star for bravery while serving in the US Army’s elite Army Rangers.