As a young girl growing up in Roswell, Georgia, Anmol Narang was fascinated by the stories her maternal grandfather, a veteran of the Indian Army, would tell her. She found them “very fascinating.”
Gradually, Narang began taking interest in the Army. “The idea of a career in the Army seemed appealing, but I didn’t know then how to make it a part of my life,” she says.
Fast forward a little over a decade, and Narang, 23, is creating history, by becoming the first observant Sikh and first observant Sikh woman to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy.
The newly minted second lieutenant was with her family, driving back from her graduation at West Point on June 13, as she spoke to American Kahani about her four years at the academy, what it means to make history and her future plans.
“I am excited and honored to be fulfilling my dream of graduating from West Point” she says. “The confidence and support of my community back home in Georgia has been deeply meaningful to me, and I am humbled in reaching this goal.”
At West Point, Narang studied nuclear engineering. She wants to pursue a career path in air defense systems.
Narang now heads to Lawton, Oklahoma, where she will complete her Basic Officer Leadership Course. After completing the course, she will then head to her first posting at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, in January, 2021.
Narang went back to West Point two weeks prior to the June 13 graduation. She went home during spring break, early March, and then stayed home, and attended online classes, “just like everyone else.” After she went back to the academy along with her graduating class she had to be quarantined.
She declined to talk in detail about the commencement speaker — President Donald Trump — only to say that it was “amazing” to listen to the President.
Narang was introduced to West Point while in high school. During her junior year, she visited the Pearl Harbor memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, and right afterward she mailed her application to West Point. “I was very impressed and motivated with that visit, and I wanted to take the step in the right direction to serve my country,” she says. Having a mom who grew up as a military child also helped.
An only child, Narang says she had the “full support” of her parents. “My parents were open and accepting of my decision,” she says. “They encouraged me to put my best foot forward,” and “pursue a career path that I was comfortable with.”
Prior to West Point, she attended one year of undergraduate study at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
At the academy, Narang says she got the “best of both worlds,” — an academic training, as well as a career in the military. “It was something I knew I always wanted, but for a long time, I was not aware that West Point could let me achieve both. The three pillars at West Point, Narang says, are academics, physical endurance and military. “There’s a lot of push for all three,” she says.
And it was there that her interest in sports and fitness that came handy. She played soccer as a child and then switched to tennis and played the sport competitively, through school and at West Point. “Exercise and fitness have always been a big part of my life, and my parents always encouraged me to purse both,” she says.
Narang hopes that she inspires young Sikh Americans. Not just to enroll in the military, but “that any career path is possible for anyone willing to rise to the challenge.”
Narang says she never feel discriminated or isolated during her four years at West Point, despite being a minority on campus. She told the Sikh Coalition that “in some ways, it was easier to fit in as a female Sikh cadet than if she had been a man.”
There were however “a few South Asian Americans” in her graduating class she says.
There were a few personal challenges she had to overcome, one of them being her hair. She says it took some practice to pin a bun tight enough to meet the Army requirements. According to U.S. Army Regulation 670-1, women can wear their hair in a bun size of 3 1/2 inches wide by 2 inches deep.
She did not need any religious accommodation.
Although Narang is the first observant Sikh to graduate from the academy, she is not the first Sikh cadet to graduate from there.
In 2016, U.S. Army Captain (CPT) Simratpal Singh filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army for his right to maintain his articles of faith in uniform. The Sikh Coalition says that this lawsuit bought “a critical change in the Army’s accommodations policy in 2017,” ensuring regions accommodations for Sikh soldiers would stay with them throughout their career.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force implemented a similarly updated policy.
The Sikh Coalition says that since the Army and the Air Force changed their policies, “there are at least 60 observant Sikhs serving in those two branches of the military.” Meanwhile, it notes that “the work continues to ensure equality of opportunity for Sikhs in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.”