Second Lieutenant Anmol Narang, a second-generation immigrant born and raised in Roswell, Georgia, is the first observant Sikh, meaning he follows religious practices, including Kesh, that call for allowing someone’s hair to grow naturally without cutting.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Narang told CNN. “It’s a humble experience. I’ve never done anything harder 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 inspiring others, regardless of career,” it will be wonderful. “
While other Sikhs graduated from the academy, the Sikh Coalition confirmed to CNN that Narang was the first observer Sikh to graduate from West Point.
The 23-year-old graduate hopes her efforts to represent her religion and community will encourage Americans to learn more about the Sikh faith, the world’s fifth-largest religion.
Narang said she decided to apply to West Point to study nuclear engineering and pursue a career in air defense systems after visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In 2017, eight years after the Sikh Coalition launched its campaign to end the U.S. military’s ban on certain religious practices that restrict Sikh members, the Army updated its rules governing religious freedom.
“I am immensely proud (second lieutenant) of Narang because he saw her goal and, in doing so, broke through the barrier for any Sikh American who wants to serve,” U.S. Army Captain Simratpal Singh said in a statement. “Wider acceptance of Sikh service members among all service departments, as well as at the highest levels of leadership like West Point, will continue to benefit not only the rights of members of the religious minority, but also the strength and diversity of the U.S. military.”
Graduates socially spaced six feet apart across the Straight Parade field to accommodate the public health needs of Covid-19, instead of gathering at Michie Stadium, the traditional venue of the ceremony. Family and friends were not allowed to attend the ceremony, but they could watch it online.
“This top 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,” Trump began his address, reading from a teleprompter.
“The first 107 to become the newest officers in the most common army to ever take over the battlefield today, I am here to offer an American salute. Thank you for having responded to your state’s call,” he added.
Narang will complete a basic officer training course at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. He will then make his first announcement in Okinawa, Japan in January 2021.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report.