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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi honored with a Bronze Star by US military

Major KalsiFrom the Sikh Coalition, we learn that Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi (who, last year, along with Tejdeep Singh Rattan successfully gained exemptions to serve in the US Army with their articles of faith intact), has been awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan.

In support of the award, an official recommendation from Major Kalsi’s superiors cites his resuscitation back to life of two patients who were clinically dead on arrival; his “expert” emergency care of over 750 soldiers and civilians; coordination of 5 mass casualty exercises; and his general “commitment and leadership above and beyond that of his general duties.”

To his credit, Major Kalsi even set up camp-wide Internet access for over 200 soldiers at Camp Dwyer in Helmand, Afghanistan, where he was deployed. After his service, he was promoted from Captain to Major.

"Major Kalsi Receives Bronze Star Medal" (photo: sikhcoalition.org)
Several years ago, Rattan, a dentist, and Kalsi, an emergency room doctor, were each assured by their respective recruiters that their articles of faith wouldn't pose a problem. When they completed their studies, however, both men were told to remove their turbans and cut their hair and beards for active duty.

After several Sikh organizations got involved and a letter was sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which was signed by 43 members of the House of Representatives and six U.S. senators, the Army changed its mind. Special exceptions to Army Regulation 600-20 were allowed so Rattan and Kalsi could wear their dastaars (turbans) and keep their unshorn hair and beards as part of their uniform, and also retain their other articles of faith.

"History portrays Sikhs as warrior-saints and I believe that is what Sikhs are ... that's what our life is all about," Rattan said. "It is what the Holy Book (the Sri Guru Granth Sahib) teaches us."

"After I got the exemption, the first in 23 years to do so, the press coverage was immense," Kalsi said of the worldwide attention to his and Rattan's cases.

Practicing Sikhs have served in the armed forces since World War I, and the ruling in 1981 which disallowed Sikhs to join was due to alleged health and safety hazard of their turban and uncut hair.

Aided by the Sikh Coalition (http://www.sikhcoalition.org), Kalsi and Rattan appealed the Army policy because of religious convictions. They were joined by the Sikh Council on Research and Education, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund and United Sikhs. More than 17,000 Sikhs and other sympathetic supporters signed petitions on their behalf.

To put their faith into perspective, there are 25 million Sikhs worldwide, making it the fifth largest religion worldwide after Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, and has been in existence for more than 500 years.

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