Giani Gurbachan Singh, the current Jathedar of the Akal Takhat and the spiritual leader of the Sikh religion, visited the United States Military Academy at West Point on Sept. 11, he is the first Sikh spiritual leader to ever visit any U.S. military installation.
On his visit Sing met Brigadier General Steve Gilliland, the Commandant of West Point and the ranking officer in the charge of student body, known as the Corps of Cadets and First Captain Simone Askew, the highest ranked cadet at the academy and the first African-American female to hold such a position.
The Jathedar’s visit was particularly significant in light of the recent policy changes adopted by the U.S. Army to permit permanent religious accommodations to the Army’s uniform and grooming standards, enabling soldiers and cadets to wear turbans and maintain beards to keep up with their faith and also expressed his gratitude to General Gilland and the U.S. Army for working with the first two Sikh cadets who joined the Corps of Cadets with accommodations granted under the new policy.
The historic visit to West Point was facilitated by Lieutenant Colonel Kamal Singh Kalsi, who was the first Sikh to receive a religious accommodation in the Army after his decade-long effort.
Today, there are over forty practicing Sikhs soldiers proudly serving in the U.S. Army, donning their religiously-mandated turbans and beards while maintaining good order and discipline.
Sikhs have faced hate crimes, bullying and job discrimination in the wake of 9/11.
As the founder of Sikh American Veteran’s Alliance (SAVA), LTC Kalsi states, “this visit helps to push back against discrimination by promoting Sikh military service in one of our nation’s oldest and most revered institutions.”