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Maloney efforts pave way for Sikhs to wear turbans in Army

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City and congressional officials honored two Sikh U.S. Army officers who have been granted permission to wear their turbans and beards while on duty in what City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said “typified how it’s possible to serve our country without compromising religious custom.”

What military officials call an accommodation was granted for Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, and Capt. Kamljeet Singh Kalsi, a physician, as a result of the efforts by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria).

Rattan recently graduated from the U.S. Army Officer Course and Kalsi will begin training this summer. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates granted the right to wear articles of their faith to Rattan and Kalsi after appeals from Maloney, U.S. Rep Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) and other members of the city’s congressional delegation.

Taking part in the ceremony April 23 were Councilmen Mark Weprin (D-Hollis), Matthew Eugene (D-Brooklyn) and Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).

“Capts. Rattan and Kalsi personify the bedrock American traditions of military service and religious freedom,” Maloney said. “It was an honor and privilege to help them serve our country while proudly bearing their articles of faith. No American should have to choose between their religion and their service to our nation. I will continue to work to ensure that all Sikh Americans are able to serve their country without forsaking the central tenets of their faith.”

“We join the Sikh community in celebrating this significant achievement,” said Quinn. “They exemplify how it’s possible to serve our country without compromising religious custom.”

There is a large Sikh community in Queens concentrated in Richmond Hill and Bellerose.

“I call upon our leaders in Washington to change the policy permanently and allow all qualified Americans to fight to protect our bedrock principles of equality and freedom of religion,” said Dromm.

Rattan was recruited and commissioned by the U.S. Army as a part of the federal Health Professionals Scholarship Program. After completing his final year of dental school, he joined the U.S. Army Officer Basic Course.

At the ceremony in the Red Room at City Hall, both men wore black turbans and camouflage pattern uniforms with their names printed on the left chest and “U.S. ARMY” on the right.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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