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The Sikh Temple Shooter’s Army Past — and a U.S. Army Sikh’s Reaction

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FBI handout via Getty Images

After James Holmes launched a Batman-movie massacre in Colorado on July 20 that killed 12, the U.S. Army quickly issued a statement declaring that he had never served in an Army uniform. Monday morning, Aug. 6, alas, Battleland had to ask the Army about Wade Michael Page’s military background to confirm initial sketchy reports that he was a veteran. Police killed Page after he mortally wounded six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Sunday morning.

“He was a white supremacist and a member of a neo-Nazi punk band,” one Army veteran groused, “but it will be his military service that gets all the attention.” In fact, Page was reportedly dishonorably discharged from the Army. Nonetheless, the military connection pains many in the Army, including a onetime top Army psychiatrist as well as the first Sikh to earn a Bronze Star, for his combat service last year in Afghanistan.

Page “does not represent military sentiment,” Army Major Kamal Kalsi tells TIME. “And I am a testament to that, being a turbaned Sikh in the military.” Kalsi says he is one of only three turbaned Sikh soldiers in the U.S. Army and among the first in 30 years to be able to wear his turban, retain his long beard and hair and keep his kirpan — the ceremonial knife carried by Sikhs — underneath his uniform, so long as its blade is no longer than three inches.

(PHOTOS: Wisconsin Community Reacts to Shocking Attack)

“I’ve know the military to be a very welcoming place in terms of diversity and cultural awareness,” says Kalsi, 36, who has served as an Army doctor at Fort Bragg, N.C., for two years. “It is unfortunate that he had ties to the military.”

The Army’s former top psychiatrist urges caution before linking Page’s horrific act to his military duty. “It is too early to know whether or not his military service, which ended with a dishonorable discharge and reduction in rank from sergeant to specialist in 1998, had anything to do either with his neo-Nazi leanings or the shooting,” says Elspeth Ritchie, now a Battleland contributor. “But we do know that he didn’t serve in combat. Hopefully this tragic episode will not serve to further stigmatize those who have served honorably.”

Page, 40, died in a hail of police bullets Sunday. He had earned several commendations — including five achievement medals, two good-conduct medals and a humanitarian-service medal — but Army officers and veterans likened them to perfect-attendance awards.

His final Army posting was at Fort Bragg, where neo-Nazi sympathizers were discovered at about the same time Page served there. But Kalsi says he has witnessed no anti-Sikh sentiment at Fort Bragg. “Not a day goes by that when I’m checking in at one of the gates they’ll say, ‘Hey, that’s really cool,’ referring to my turban,” he says. “It’s very strange and shocking to me that this fellow had connections to the military.”

(MORE: Sikh Temple Shooter Identified, Had Ties to White-Supremacist Movement)

Kalsi photo

Kalsi says he had to convince the Army that the turban wouldn’t interfere with military work (Sikhs wear a bandanna-like version when wearing helmets or playing sports), that his beard wouldn’t interfere with his ability to wear a gas mask (“A little bit of Vaseline goes a very long way”) and that Sikhs wouldn’t hurt the Army’s morale if allowed to broadcast their religion. “Those were the same arguments used to keep out blacks as well as women,” Kalsi says. “By our service — and certainly the Bronze Star — I think that shows that esprit de corps has not been an issue.”

Kalsi observes that Page may have mistaken Sikhs for Muslims. “Every time there is anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, the Sikhs pay the price,” he says. “It’s unfortunate, but after 9/11 we’ve felt like we’ve had to prove our American-ness. We’ve paid the price, perhaps more dearly, than any other minority in this country since 9/11.” After all, he continues, “I’m the guy at the airport who’s sort of randomly selected every time for a secondary screening.”

The fact that Page left the Army nearly 14 years ago is likely to get lost amid the fact that he served as a psychological-operations specialist, with all the baggage the psyops field carries. The Army says that someone in Page’s military occupational specialty would be “primarily responsible for the analysis, development and distribution of intelligence used for information and psychological effect.”

The Army says someone in his slot today would:

• Research and analyze methods of influencing foreign population from a variety of information sources
• Operate and maintain equipment such as ground tactical vehicles and shelter systems, loudspeaker systems, state-of-the-art computers, analog and digital recording and playback devices and communication systems
• Travel to overseas locations in peace, crisis and conflict to assist U.S. and foreign governments, militaries and civilian populations

The Army adds that such training can help a veteran gain employment in “public relations, sales, marketing and advertising. Because of the time you’ll spend studying foreign cultures and social systems, you can explore a future career in the diplomatic service or as an anthropologist, journalist, social scientist, statistician, market analyst, advertising consultant or sales manager.”

Speaking of careers, Kalsi represents the fourth generation of his family to serve in the military. “All of us Sikhs, if I can speak for the broader community, are deeply patriotic, and that’s evidenced by our long military tradition,” he says. “We are shocked that this sort of thing has happened, although, in the back of our minds, we were concerned for many years that this would eventually happen.”

MORE: Indians Demand Justice After U.S. Sikh Massacre

32 comments
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turtle999
turtle999

I know a bunch of Sikhs. They're cool guys. Just like anybody else. 

gardenrocker
gardenrocker

I think Sikh's are the coolest ever people.  So sweet and intelligent and attractive.  Beautiful people.  I want some as my friends.

I think white supremacists and nazis and racists are terrible and scary and should change and become nice people,  and practice love not hate.

footloose280
footloose280

One should always remember that while the perpetrator was a veteran the 20 year old police officer who almost died while doing his job and saving the victims is also a veteran.

Ujjal G.
Ujjal G.

I am sorry to say many Americans are ignorant  of other cultures.Sikhs are a warrior people.  Sikhs earn medals. Medals are not "given to them" My grandfather fought in the First world war in North and East Africa with the or for the British . My two uncles fought in World war 2. They earned medals. More Victoria Crosses, Britains highest medal for valor were awarded to Sikhs per capita than any other group. BabdeBarb "Ignorance is Bliss"

Guest
Guest

Look. I agree that the Sikhs are famous warriors. They are a great and storied and courageous people. I am just saying that being awarded a Bronze Star in this day and age is not evidence of valor. That's it. Not a slam on this particular guy. Great things. Glad he's in. Glad he's a doctor.

I'm Cherokee. My people did great and glorious things. I have two bronze stars. Doesn't mean I did didly in the war other than show up and not get in trouble.

Jeffrey Imm
Jeffrey Imm

Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) has further links on Stormfront to Wade Michael Page's End Apathy, which had a Stormfront account out of Milwaukee, WI since 2008, which Page used to promote his band at other racist events.  Some Stormfront supporters praised the killings and Stormfront "Chief of Staff" "Jack Boot" wrote that "they're asking for it."  

See our links and screen shots at 

http://www.realcourage.org/201...

Stormfront members have been convicted for past terrorist plots, including a plot to kill 88 African Americans and Barack Obama.  I urge the news media to continue to research the Stormfront links of individuals actively praising and promoting terrorist violence.  This is NOT the first time.

http://www.realcourage.org/cat...

http://www.realcourage.org/201...

There is a long history of Stormfront members involved with and promoting terrorism.

http://www.realcourage.org/201...

http://www.realcourage.org/200...

http://www.realcourage.org/201...

http://www.realcourage.org/201...

http://www.realcourage.org/201...

milwaukeegregg
milwaukeegregg

What a shame ! My condolences to all the Sikhs in Milwaukee! Peaceful people they are. Also to the brave officer shot in the line of duty my prayers to all. 

metropika
metropika

How come all these white supremacists guys seem to look like they're more than just a brick short a load? Is there a regressive/time delayed breakdown in their genetic make up? Is this condition hereditary? Or are we just looking at a very advanced form of trailer park trash?

Bahare Sabeti
Bahare Sabeti

What was his religion? Since Muslim terrorists or anyone with a Muslim name or a middle eastern background gets to SURELY accompany the blame of the entire Muslim and Arab and Middle Eastern world, I would like to know, why no one is blaming this on all white Americans and Christians? Just to be fair. White killers are never Christians...they are always mad, crazy, schitzo, supremacist, skinhead.....amazing double standards.

happydayfortennis
happydayfortennis

The terrorists' main goal was obviously to inspire fear in the minds of the American people. And it worked, considering how paranoid we are of potential terrorist attacks and people who somewhat resemble potential terrorists, but we're not afraid of gun homicides which kill 25 people a day, car accidents which kill 110 people a day, or heart disease which kills - brace yourselves - 1500 people a day. The media really hasn't helped us overcome our irrational fear of Muslims or anyone who looks remotely Middle Eastern. 

MrObvious
MrObvious

The gunmans military service is not the issue. What I think gets lost is what the person in this article is trying say; because of 9/11 you have people such as possibly this guy attacking other religions because they have similarities to muslims. Or maybe it was just their otherness?

Joseph Dillard
Joseph Dillard

Nothing in this piece talks about how the military  trains people to be killers. I wonder why not?

blueprairie
blueprairie

I spent 21 years in as did both my sisters and my husband (and the husband of one of my sisters).  We were trained to be a nurse, an intel analyst, a communications engineer, and (in two cases) infantrymen.  None of us were trained to be killers.  Your statement bespeaks a profound ignorance of military training and military personnel.

Bahare Sabeti
Bahare Sabeti

 That means you were assisting the killings....literally.

metropika
metropika

That's really stretching the point Bahare....literally.

David Austin
David Austin

Because the military only trains people to protect your freedoms, to the point of stopping killers by any means necessary who want to kill you.  Maybe if you have a problem with that you should just make short order of it by moving to Afghanistan and offering yourself up as a willing sacrifice to those who want to deprive you of life and liberty.

Bahare Sabeti
Bahare Sabeti

 You freedom fight started with the OPERATION AJAX...which ruined Iran and the entire middle east....opppppps...last I checked, half of Al Qaida were on the payrole of CIA...including their leader Bin Laden....so, who are you fighting exactly? It's ok if you believed bunch of BS when you were young and high on testosterone, but seriously, it's time to wake up and see reality.

MachCUBED
MachCUBED

The CIA-Bin Laden link is actually a widespread urban legend: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A...

Besides, if American foreign policy is the reason for the global jihadist threat, then why do (Pakistani) jihadists have a habit of attacking India all the time? India had nothing to do with the '53 coup or anything like that. And before anyone brings up Kashmir, keep in mind that it was attacked by Pakistan while the Maharaja was working to stay independent.

Anyway, let's focus on Maj. Kalsi's response, and admire both his valor and that of most Sikhs, who have a well-deserved reputation for valor.

Bahare Sabeti
Bahare Sabeti

 LOL....so you guys are in the Middle East protecting our freedom from bunch of opium addicted central tribes? REALLY? It's 21st century. No one buys the old BS of freedom protection.

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

Yeah, we've pretty much blown the "freedom protection" argument out of the water -- on several accounts.  But you gotta tell Congress SOMETHING, in order to get them to support wars in opposition to "weapons of mass destruction."  Even when the only WMD was actually sitting in the vice president's office!

HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHHA   What maroons we routinely elect to congress!

2011
2011

djahah- Your comments are moronic.

Yes, there are certified haters like the douche that killed those people. IT had NOTHING to do with the miltary.

As long as there are racist, and religeous asshole zealots, there will be stories like this.Djalma Saraiva Filho Saraiva-- go bitch about murderers in Afghanastan, Pakistan, Irag, Syria, Algeria, Somolia and the rest of the cultures that use religion as a reason to kill.

Djalma Saraiva Filho Saraiva
Djalma Saraiva Filho Saraiva

While U.S. authorities do not take action on trade in arms for misfits anemic brain, each week in different parts of the country, there will always be another tragedy like this hyperbolic case and Batman. It seems that Americans are suffering from a degree of self-alienation, as if they were crazy scanned and attached to any type of heterogeneous conception of religion, believing in things abstract, rational considered immature. American by way of acting, to the world are all crazy

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 "hyperbolic case..."

What the hell are you talking about?

Guest
Guest

unfortunately, the bronze star has been diminished to being a gimme award for every senior ranking person deploying to a war zone. unless it has a "V" device, it is not associated with valor.

BTW, you don't "win" a bronze star. It's not a game show.

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

" as well as the first Sikh to earn a Bronze Star, for his combat service last year in Afghanistan."

BTW, the word was "earn", not "win".

Guest
Guest

 the only way you can earn a bronze star is being deployed to a combat zone. it does not actually mean you were actively engaged in combat. I wish people without military backgrounds would educate themselves before commenting on these issues. basically, they give you a bronze star for showing up.

Guest
Guest

1 tour in OIF, 1 in OEF. 19 years in the military.

I'm not saying this is a good or bad person. Just that citing a Bronze Star as something extraordinary when any military person will tell you it is the "go to" award for deploying down range.

 https://twitter.com/MarkThomps...

third entry down. Educate yourself, lady:

Mark Thompson Mark Thompson ‏@MarkThompson_DC

The Sikh shooter's Army background...and how a Sikh who won an Army Bronze Star views the rampage. On Battleland, at http://ti.me/Nx2koO

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 You are full of crap.  Please point out the "tweet from Mark thompson". 

You imply that you are qualified to judge someone's military background...but we see no evidence of  your own.

Guest
Guest

Honora-in the tweet from Mark thompson it was "won." Again, I'm not impressed. I think that it's great that he broke cultural barriers for his people, but citing that as an example of his loyalty is unconvincing to someone who has several collecting dust (and no, I didn't do anything extraordinary. All I did was deploy, do my job, and not get court martialled). What I'm trying to say is a Bronze Star is not a big deal.