Wednesday, March 24, 2010

US Army Officer is Sikh

U.S. Army Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, center wearing turban, stands with other graduates during a U.S. Army officer basic training graduation ceremony at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio on Monday, March 22, 2010. Capt. Rattan is the first Sikh allowed to complete officer basic training while wearing the traditional turban and full beard since the Army altered the dress code, which had made exceptions for Sikh soldiers, in 1984.

To any who complain about his beard and turban, I say "Wake up." Many of the soldiers standing next to him have been granted equally broad leniency with the old haircut policy - women's hair is allowed to be long under certain restrictions just as his is. The army hasn't come to a screeching halt as a result of allowing women into its ranks and the lifting of the restrictions on Sikhs won't harm it either. I remember when the Army made those changes back in '84 and I can't honestly say I totally disagreed with the decision then, but it kinda nagged at me, you know? At the time, I understood the "clean-shaven" decision to be intended to shape up the force, but the improvements didn't seem linked to the shaving.  It was obviously above my pay grade so I stopped thinking about it, but I am glad it's showing signs of change. (I also think the Navy should allow beards again.)

Times, however, have changed.  The armed forces have morphed into a new form, with radically new and improved tactics, weaponry and manpower.  The addition of soldiers like Capt. Rattan will only strengthen the army.  (And ask the history majors in your faculty about the Sikhs as warriors -- I am glad they want to be on our side.)

So, to Capt Rattan, USArmy: Hoo-ah.


  1. I was always taught that the prohibition against facial hair was because facial hair would prevent a tight seal when wearing a protective mask (aka a gas mask).

  2. I remember that, too. I guess I accepted that explanation without question, but is it really true? I've heard lots of explanations about why women, gays, just-naturalized citizens, "foreigners", etc., were going to destroy the morale of the army. At the time, I just accepted a lot of that. Historically, there are similar justifications for denying blacks, Japanese, and more.

    Now that I'm out and have had time to reflect and the benefit of hind-sight, it's obvious that a lot of these restrictions said more about the biases of the time than about the truth and reasonableness of the rule.

    Which is not an indictment of all rules, just an acknowledgment that some are based on matters other than effectiveness, practicality and combat readiness.