By MICHELLE ROBERTS, Associated Press Writer – Tue Mar 23, 7:37 am ET
SAN ANTONIO – The soldiers in standard-issue fatigues and combat boots stood side-by-side repeating their creed: "I am an American soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values ...."
Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan was no different except that he wore a full beard and black turban, the first Sikh in a generation allowed to complete U.S. Army basic officer training without sacrificing the articles of his faith. He completed the nine-week training Monday after Army officials made an exemption to a policy that has effectively prevented Sikhs from enlisting since 1984.
"I'm feeling very humbled. I'm a soldier," said the 31-year-old dentist, smiling after the ceremony at Fort Sam Houston. "This has been my dream."
Rattan had to get a waiver from the Army to serve without sacrificing the unshorn hair mandated by his faith. An immigrant from India who arrived in New York as a teenager, Rattan said he hopes his military commitment will allow him to give back to his adopted home country and will help diminish prejudice Sikhs sometimes face in the U.S.
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