Manav Singh Sodhi, 17, is excited and preparing to go to boot camp for his military training shortly, more so because he can keep his beard and turban.
Sodhi is one of at least 14 Sikhs granted this waiver since it came into being in the last days of the Obama administration, and he represents a “new wave” of young Indian-Americans belonging to various faiths, and other minorities wanting to join the military, Lt. Col. Kamal Kalsi, the first to be granted such a religious waiver in 2010, indicated to News India Times, adding that it was a big change that has taken place over the last ten years.
The other 13 Sikh recruits are from all around the country, Kalsi said.
“It took me a year and a half and a lot of trouble — organizing, getting 50 Congressional signatures, etc. just to get me and Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, the waiver,” Kalsi said about his experience.
Sodhi, a graduate of Kings Park High School on Long Island, New York City, will shortly be on his way to bootcamp. “He wants to be where the action is – he wants to join the artillery,” Kalsi said.
In a press release from the Sikh American Veterans Association, an organization founded by Kalsi, he said, “As the first Sikh American in over a generation to receive a religious accommodation in the military, I feel it’s important to pay it forward and help open doors for Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and other religious minorities.”
Sodhi’s accommodation to maintain his religiously mandated beard and turban while in uniform “Bodes well for our community when we can become part of the fabric of this country,” Kalsi told News India Times.
There are currently over sixty Sikh males serving in the U.S. Army with their turbans and beards, according to SAVA.
“I wanted to join the army ever since I was a kid. My great grandfather served in the Army and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. My father and mother inspired me to follow my dreams and never give up no matter what. And that’s exactly what I did,” Manav Sodhi is quoted saying in the press release.
He wants to be ‘where the action is” says Lt. Col. Kamal Kalsi who was the first person of the Sikh faith to be allowed to wear his turban and beard in the U.S. Military, and who has been behind the campaign to grant religious waivers to people of all faiths wanting to join the defense forces.
“When I was a child, my mother took me to an event at City Hall where I met Lieutenant Colonel Kalsi for the first time, and he was in his army uniform with his Turban and beard. That was a life-changing moment for me because I realized then that I can freely practice my religion and serve my country too,” Sodhi is auoed saying
Lt. Col. Kalsi told News India Times that the new recruit and his mother did not wish to give any press interviews but had forwarded some of his comments for the press.