Until Wednesday, there were no members of the Sikh faith in the enlisted ranks of the U.S. Army due to the service’s restrictions against beards and turbans.
The faith requires men to wear beards and turbans. The Army banned those “conspicuous articles of faith” in 1984.
But Spc. Simranpeet Lamba stepped onto Fort Jackson’s Hilton Field parade ground Wednesday with the rest of his basic training graduating class, wearing a beard and black turban. And he was selected by his fellow soldiers and drill instructor to carry the guidon flag for his platoon, a position of honor.
A native of New Delhi , India, Lamba also became a U.S. citizen.
“It is a dream come true to be in uniform and treated like any other soldier,” said Lamba. “If I can do it, maybe others can do it too.”
Lamba, who is training to be a combat medic, is the first enlisted soldier to receive an “accommodation,” or special exception, to wear his faith’s beard and turban. He worked for 10 months to get the exception before enrolling in his 10-week basic training course.
Lamda’s graduation was one of the highlights of the Veterans Day celebration Wednesday at the nation’s largest Army training base, a celebration held a day early so its soldiers could have today off.
At the traditional wreath-laying ceremony, speaker Jack Van Loan, a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton for six years during the Vietnam War, said the day also is an opportunity to give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy as a nation, in addition to honoring veterans.
“I lost mine for six years, and not a day goes by that I don’t thank God that I got it back,” he said.
Maj. Gen. James “Mike” Milano said today’s soldiers “stand on the shoulders of men and women who fought valiantly before us,” including Van Loan.
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