Sikh American woman graduating from West Point makes history

Second Lt. Anmol Narang
Second Lt. Anmol Narang. Photo credit: Second Lt. Lauren E. Karbler, via Sikh Coalition

 23-year-old Second Lt. Anmol Narang is one of the record 230 women graduates in the West Point class of 2020.

A Sikh American woman has made history as the first observant Sikh and first observant Sikh woman to graduate from the US Military Academy West Point.

“I am excited and honored to be fulfilling my dream of graduating from West Point,” said 23-year-old Second Lt. Anmol Narang, one of the record 230 women among 1,100 graduates in the class of 2020. “I am showing other Sikh Americans that any career path is possible for anyone willing to rise to the challenge.”

“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,” she said as cited by Sikh Coalition, a community organization.

On her accomplishment in becoming the first observant Sikh woman to graduate in the academy’s 218-year history, the Coalition tweeted: “This is another watershed moment in the never-ending efforts to end employment discrimination in every aspect of American life.”

Narang is expected to get her first posting in Okinawa, Japan in January 2021 after successful completion of her Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma.

A second-generation immigrant born and raised in Roswell, Georgia, Narang had an early appreciation for military service due to her maternal grandfather’s career in the Indian Army, a coalition statement said.

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, Hawaii.

She attended one year of undergraduate study at the Georgia Institute of Technology before transferring to West Point, where she studied nuclear engineering to pursue a career path in air defense systems.

“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 US Army Captain (CPT) Simratpal Singh, a family friend who played a key role in winning accommodations for Sikhs in US armed forces.

In 1987, the US 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 2017, Simratpal 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. It 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 US 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, the coalition said.

Meanwhile, Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of the Indian state of Punjab, where Sikhs are in majority, has complemented Narang for her feat.

“I congratulate 23-year-old Anmol Narang who on Saturday became the first observant Sikh to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point,” he tweeted.

“Anmol, the entire Punjab is proud of you. God bless!” Singh added.

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