An Indian-American woman has become the first observant Sikh to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Anmol Narang, who was newly made second lieutenant, is a second-generation immigrant who was born and raised in Roswell, Georgia.
But it was a trip to the Pearl Harbour National Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, in high school that prompted her decision to enrol in the US Military Academy at West Point.
The 23-year-old was accepted and studied nuclear engineering to pursue a career path in air defence systems.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Lieutenant Narang told CNN.
“It’s a humbling experience, I have never worked harder for anything in my life. 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.”
The Sikh faith is the fifth-largest religion in the world, and while other Sikhs have graduated from the military academy, Lieutenant Narang is the first observant Sikh to do so, meaning she follows religious practices such as allowing her hair to grow without cutting it.
West Point has attempted to enrol more minority recruits in recent times. Last year, the graduating class saw the highest number of black women in the academy’s history.
“I am immensely proud of [Second Lieutenant] Narang for seeing her goal through and, in doing so, breaking a barrier for any Sikh American who wishes to serve,” US Army Captain Simratpal Singh said in a statement.
“The broader acceptance of Sikh service members 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 US military.”
Congress passed a law in 1987, prohibiting certain religions to practice their faith while serving in the army, including Sikhs.
But in 2017 the US Army updated rules governing religious liberty, which allowed Sikhs to serve in the army with their religion intact – including beards and turbans – after 30 years of not being able to do so freely.
It took the Sikh Coalition eight years of campaigning to win their fight and have the Secretary of the Army grant religious freedom.
Lieutenant Narang was one of 230 women in the 2020 graduating class. Among those women were 12 per cent African-American, nine per cent Asian, nine per cent Hispanic and under one per cent Native American.
President Donald Trump addressed the 1,107 graduates.
“This premier military academy produces only the best of the best, the strongest of the strong, and the bravest of the brave. West Point is a universal symbol of American gallantry, loyalty, devotion, discipline, and skill,” Mr Trump said to the graduates.
“To the 1,107 who today become the newest officers in the most exceptional army ever to take the field of battle, I am here to offer America’s salute. Thank you for answering your nation’s call.”