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Home > India > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

9/11 inspires Indian man to join US army

June 04, 2008

Sandeep Singh

The Department of Homeland Security last week showcased an India-born soldier, one of the six foreign-born members of the military, at a special naturalisation ceremony for new citizens of the United States.

Ludhiana-born Sandeep Singh, 23, a soldier in the US Army's 3rd US Infantry Continental Color Guard Team, said he had "followed his desire to serve his adopted nation after the terrorist attacks of 9/11."

He was among 26 men and women from 21 countries who were administered the Oath of Allegiance by Jonathan 'Jock' Scharfen, acting director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, an appendage of the DHS, in the ceremony at the National Mall.

It was only the third time in US history that such an event had taken place on these grounds, which are bounded by the Smithsonian museums; the event was part of various activities connected with the celebration of Public Service Recognition Week.

Singh, who came to the US at age 10, was raised in Queens, New York, and attended William Colin Bryant High School in Long Island, told that he was so angered by the 9/11 terrorist attacks that he vowed to join the army as soon as he was eligible.

"Growing up in India, I had seen acts of terrorism in India, mainly in Kashmir, perpetrated by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists, and of course, lots of it in Punjab by the Khalistani movement, and I was so tired of it," Singh said. "But what was really the straw that broke the camel's back was when 9/11 happened, where I had friends who lost their siblings or relatives.

"This was what really triggered my desire to join the army," said Singh, who is yet to be deployed in the ongoing battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I am rearing to go as soon as I am called up. Wherever the needs of the army are, I am ready to go and it will be my honour to go wherever they send me," he said.

He is currently doing his undergraduate degree in the American Military University, located on the base in Fort Myer, Arlington, Virginia. Though yet to shed his rookie status, his dreams are larger than life size. "I hope to make general one day. I am going to college now and I am going to focus on my studies, but hopefully in the next 20 or so years, I'll be able to get there."

His parents -- father Sukhwant Singh, who is in construction, and mother Jagdev, a homemaker -- were strongly against his desire to join the army, "more so at this time, with the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they are aware of the fact that the infantry is the most hazardous occupation in the military."

"I got the traditional rhetoric from them about why I couldn't become a doctor or engineer and so on. But this country is all about the pursuit of happiness, doing what you want to do, and that's what I am going for. You have to do what you have to do," he said.

Singh's parents were not present at the ceremony, but several of his fellow specialists from the 3rd US Infantry were on hand to applaud when his name was called and he went up to be congratulated and handed his citizenship certificate.

He pointed out that he was not tempted to join the army by the blandishments of army recruiters who routinely visit high schools. "Growing up, it was just something I wanted to do -- wear the uniform and be part of something bigger than myself. That was what I was striving for, I guess."

Two civilians of Indian origin -- Philip George, an information technology specialist from Ashburn, Virginia, and Hira Panth, a teacher from Lorton, Virginia -- were among those who became new-minted US citizens on the same day.

Madras-born George, who works for Pepco, a Virginia power company, told, "It's a privilege to become a US citizen and more so at a special ceremony like this."

Echoing those sentiments, Panth, who teaches creative arts and play music in a child development programme called Gymboree, said, "It's not every day that one has the privilege of being sworn in at such a special ceremony and of being part of this small select group."

Turning to Singh and the other foreign-born military officers who were naturalised, Scharfen said, "As evidenced by the members of the armed forces who have been naturalised today, there are immigrants who have already put their lives on the line for their adopted nation, and others have made the ultimate sacrifice in our defence."

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