June 12, 2020 (West Point, NY) — Tomorrow, Second Lieutenant (2LT) Anmol Narang will become the first observant Sikh and first observant Sikh woman to graduate from United States Military Academy West Point.
“I am excited and honored to be fulfilling my dream of graduating from West Point tomorrow,” said 2LT Narang. “The confidence and support of my community back home in Georgia has been deeply meaningful to me, and I am humbled that in reaching this goal, I am showing other Sikh Americans that any career path is possible for anyone willing to rise to the challenge.”
2LT Narang will complete her Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Sill in Lawton, OK. Following the successful completion of BOLC, she will then head to her first posting in Okinawa, Japan in January of 2021.
A second-generation immigrant born and raised in Roswell, Georgia, 2LT Narang had an early appreciation for military service due to her maternal grandfather’s career in the Indian Army. After a gradually growing interest in military service during high school, she began her application for West Point the afternoon after her family visited Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu, Hawai’i. She attended one year of undergraduate study at the Georgia Institute of Technology before transferring to West Point, where she proceeded to study nuclear engineering and pursue a career path in air defense systems.
In 1987, Congress passed a law that prohibited Sikhs and several other religious communities from maintaining their articles of faith while in the military, despite a history of diverse service and simple accommodations. For 30 years, the visible Sikh articles of faith–including unshorn facial hair and turbans–were banned, despite being core tenets of the faith. In response, for more than 10 years, the Sikh Coalition has led a campaign, in partnership with other Sikh and civil rights organizations, litigation partners, and like-minded advocates, to ensure equality of opportunity for Sikhs Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces. While 2LT Narang required no accommodation for her articles of faith, her exemplary service to date underscores how diversity and pluralism remain core strengths of the U.S. military and the country as a whole.
“I am immensely proud of 2LT Narang for seeing her goal through and, in doing so, breaking a barrier for any Sikh American who wishes to serve,” said U.S. Army Captain (CPT) Simratpal Singh, a family friend of 2LT Narang and a former Sikh Coalition client. “The broader acceptance of Sikh servicemembers among all of the service branches, as well as in top tier leadership spaces like West Point, will continue to benefit not just the rights of religious minority individuals, but the strength and diversity of the U.S. military.”
CPT Singh’s 2016 suit over his own right to maintain his articles of faith in uniform spurred a critical change in the Army’s accommodations policy in 2017, which streamlined the accommodations process for Sikh soldiers and ensured that accommodations would stay with them throughout their career. In 2020, after granting a series of individual accommodations to Sikh airmen throughout the year prior, the U.S. Air Force implemented a similarly updated policy. 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, the work continues to ensure equality of opportunity for Sikhs in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion, with approximately 25 million adherents worldwide. There are an estimated 500,000 Sikh Americans today, and the community has been an integral part of the U.S. social fabric for more than 125 years. To learn more about the Sikh American community or the Sikh Coalition’s work in defense of equality of opportunity in the U.S. military and beyond–or to be connected with former clients or other organizations involved with this work–please contact Graham West or Rajanpreet Kaur.