(AFP) Growing up near the air force base in Dayton, Ohio, Mr Tejdeep Singh Rattan, knew he wanted to serve in uniform. When he was turned away the third time from serving in the military, Mr Rattan became suspicious.
“I was, like, I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “I was very introverted at the time. But I said I really want to do this, and you guys are sending me out again and again.”
The 31-year-old is now US Army Captain Rattan and since July the head dentist at the Fort Drum base in New York. In what appears to be a quiet shift, the US military has allowed Mr Rattan and two other Sikhs to serve while retaining their turbans and beards, which are required by their faith.
The US Sikh community—estimated at more than half a million—suffered hate crimes after the 9/11 attacks by assailants who falsely associated the religion founded in India with al Qaeda.
“I think the only way for that perception to be eliminated is when Sikhs come up and serve in the military,” Mr Rattan said. Mr Rattan and another Sikh who received approval last year—Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a doctor— said in interviews that their superiors had welcomed them warmly. Mr Kalsi, 34, said that on his first day of training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, a first sergeant pulled him out of the crowd and told the soldiers about the Sikh’s long ordeal to enlist. These were his words: “The Army is made up of different shades of green, and if you have any objection to him being here, you need to tell me now,” Mr Kalsi said.