Washington, March 23 (IANS) Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a 31-year-old dentist, has become the first Sikh in over 25 years to be allowed to complete US Army officer basic training without giving up his turban or shaving his full beard.
Rattan graduated Monday at Fort Sam Houston after the army made an exemption to a uniform policy that has prevented Sikhs from enlisting since 1984 without sacrificing the articles of their faith.
"I'm feeling very humbled. I'm a soldier," media reports quoted him as saying after the ceremony. "This has been my dream."
An immigrant from India who arrived in New York as a teenager, Rattan had to get a waiver from the army to be allowed to serve without cutting off his hair. Before 1984, Sikhs were allowed to maintain their articles of faith while serving.
Rattan and Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, who will attend basic training this summer after completing an emergency medicine fellowship, are the first Sikhs to receive exemptions in more than 25 years.
Rattan and Kalsi both offer healthcare skills that are in high demand in an army stretched by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, which helped Rattan make his case.