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Carter urged to end presumptive ban on Sikh-Americans

Washington: As many as 27 retired American military leaders have urged Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to end the presumptive ban on Sikh-Americans on joining the armed forces with their religious insignia intact.

“We believe that Sikh-Americans should be given an equal opportunity to serve in the US Armed Forces without violating their religious obligations,” they said.

In a letter to Carter dated November 11, these retired military leaders cites the heroic efforts and valor of the few Sikhs who have joined the US forces in the past few years.

Since 2009, the US Army has granted individualized accommodations to three Sikh Americans, who wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair, including beards, they said.

All three of these service members wear turbans and maintain beards in a neat and conservative manner, and all of them can wear helmets and protective gas masks, in conformity with safety requirements.

Two of them deployed to Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star Medal and MSM NATO Medal for their service, noted the letter which was released by Congressman Joe Crowley, a top Democratic lawmaker in the US House of Representatives.

“The support for allowing Sikh Americans to serve in our military while adhering to their religious beliefs is overwhelming, as most recently evidenced by the letter to Secretary of Defense Carter from a group of prominent retired military leaders,” Crowley said.

“We are a stronger nation, and a stronger military, because of our rich diversity. Sikh Americans love this country and want a fair chance to serve in our nation’s military – we should embrace this wish, not place restrictions on it,” Crowley said.

The retired officials said Sikhs are admired throughout the world for their martial prowess and serve with distinction in the armed forces of Canada, India, and the UK.

“Although Sikhs have served honorably in the US military since World War I, restrictive appearance regulations adopted in 1981 created barriers to their service. Revisions earlier this year to DOD Instruction make it possible for service members to request religious accommodations,” they said.

“However, the new guidelines presumptively exclude Sikh articles of faith, forcing Sikhs to repeatedly apply for waivers and even violate their religion while an accommodation request is pending,” the letter said.