When Kanwarpreet Singh came to the United States from India four years ago, he knew he wanted to serve his new country.
Military service, he said, is important to members of the Sikh faith no matter where they live. However, he would need some help to join any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and CalVet provided it. First, the backstory:
Singh arrived in the U.S. in November 2018 to join his wife, Jasmeet, who works in information technology for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. Despite his own IT background, Singh drove trucks while adding a master’s degree in business analytics at Cal Poly-Pomona to the undergraduate degree he’d earned in India.
In 2020, he decided it was time to enlist.
“I wanted to serve in the U.S. military – the biggest employer in the world,” Singh said.
Then he thought his age – he was nearing 30 – might become a stumbling block. So, he opted for the California National Guard, where he encountered a different type of hurdle – or five of them, to be precise.
The Kakars are five required articles of the Sikh faith—the Kesh, which involves uncut hair kept beneath a turban; the Kangha, a wooden comb; the Kara, an iron or steel wrist band; the Kachera, an undergarment; and the Kirpan, a short ceremonial sword.
They are fundamental to the Sikh faith and therefore non-negotiable. Because the various branches of the military have their own sets of rules regarding uniforms and uniformity, he needed to receive a religious accommodation to serve. That is where CalVet’s Minority and Underrepresented Veterans Division (MUVD) assisted.
Celebrating Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month in November 2020, the MUVD hosted an American Sikh Veterans Appreciation webinar. Attendees included Staff Sgt. Daniel Taylor of the California National Guard, who at the time was working with a Sikh recruit – Singh – who had requested a religious accommodation.
“CalVet is committed to ensuring our minority veterans and servicemembers are given the opportunity to advocate for the services and benefits available to them,” said Xóchitl Rodriguez Murillo, CalVet’s deputy secretary for Minority and Underrepresented Veterans.
Following the webinar, Taylor contacted CalVet staff, which then set up a meeting involving the National Guard’s recruitment team and the Sikh Coalition, as well as a chaplain assigned to his case.
“That meeting got everyone on board,” Singh said. He spent two hours with the chaplain. “He submitted input up the chain of command that I was legitimate (sincere in his beliefs).”
It took several more months, but Singh indeed received his religious accommodation, graduated from basic training in July 2022, and is now part of the 251st Financial Management Support Detachment at the Guard unit in Azusa.
“Our efforts to reach our minority servicemembers to ensure their well-being is one of our top priorities,” Rodriguez Murillo said. “We were able to connect Spec. Singh to our expert partners, which successfully led to the granted religious accommodation.”
Singh is among the roughly 120 Sikhs currently serving in the U.S. military in California. He reports one weekend a month for duty, but frequently attends non-mandatory operations as well.
Singh said many of the others at boot camp were inquisitive about Kakar and its five articles of faith. Consequently, he was summoned to a meeting with a colonel, sergeant, and other officers.
“They called me in to ask how training was going,” Singh said. “I told them I wish the recruiter would have told me I’d be getting stared at. Some wanted to know ‘Why are you wearing that (turban).’”
One soldier knew that Sikhs served in World Wars I and II, and in most wars since.
“He said (he) never got to meet one,” Singh said.
He plans to stay in the Guard, and to help other Sikhs join, just as CalVet helped him.
“I’m planning for a long walk,” he said. He also hopes to give the Guard what it is now missing. “There are no Sikh chaplains. My aspiration is to be an officer and a Sikh chaplain. There are Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim chaplains. I want to be one for my faith.”
Congratulations Kanwarpreet! Well done on your hard work, serving your country and staying committed to your faith.
Congratulations Kanwarpreet! Please let me know how I can assist your cause.
I’m currently the Chaplain at American Legion Post 419 in Santa Clara, CA and from both Sikh & Christian background faiths. As a Veteran from the 80’s, I can assist your efforts. Let me know if you’re interested. email@example.com