An Indian American woman graduated as the first observant Sikh from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Saturday.
Her story: Anmol Narang, 23, a newly-minted second lieutenant, is a second-generation immigrant born and raised in Roswell, Georgia.
Narang always had military service in her blood, having a grandfather who served in the Indian Army.
After a visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in junior high school, she was further inspired to serve in the military.
She applied to West Point to study nuclear engineering, hoping to pursue a career in air defense systems.
On Saturday, she graduated with 1,106 others at the Plain Parade Field — keeping a social distance of 6 feet instead of congregating at Michie Stadium, where the graduation ceremony is traditionally held.
She is now set to complete her Basic Officer Leadership Course in Oklahoma before heading to her first post in Okinawa, Japan next year.
Why her graduation is important:The Sikh Coalition, a Sikh American advocacy group, confirmed that Narang is the first observant Sikh to graduate from the academy.
The Army and Air Force are the only military branches that do not prohibit members from serving with turbans and unshorn hair/beard, which happen to be articles of faith for Sikhs.
As an observant Sikh, Narang follows religious practices at all times, including allowing her hair to grow without cutting it (known as “kesh”).
Such practice would not be possible prior to 2017, the year the Army changed its rules regarding religious liberties.
In 1987, Congress passed legislation preventing Sikhs and other religious groups from observing certain practices while in service.
The first Sikh cadet to graduate from the academy is Simratpal Singh, who had to cut his hair short and keep his beard shorn during his studies.
An inspiration to others: As the first observant Sikh — and a woman — to graduate from the academy, Narang hopes to inspire others.
Narang is one of about 230 women in the graduating class, which was 9% Asian. Despite being a minority (Asian/Sikh) within a minority (women), she never felt isolated on campus.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” she told CNN about her graduation. “It’s a humbling experience, I have never worked harder for anything in my life.”
She added: “Being a Sikh woman is a very important part of my identity and if my experience can play a small role in being an inspiration for others, regardless of career field, that will be wonderful.”
Katie Felder, a West Point spokeswoman, said that diversity “must never be an afterthought,” according to The New York Times.
“It must be a thoughtful and purposeful approach to ensure that we get the talent and the right mix of talent that will represent the nation we are sworn to defend,” Felder said.
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