There are more than 200,000 women on active duty in the U.S.
military. Very few of them are of South Asian origin. If the military is an
un-conventional choice as a career for South Asian American men then for women
it is more so.
However, despite instinctive opposition from
traditional professional and business class parents, some South Asian women are
trading in their college days and civilian life for the rigors of military.
Mauli Patel and Ranbir Kaur are two such South Asian women
who are bucking the trend by joining the Army. Born and raised in India, both
came to the United States at a young age. Patel was in the USA for only five
years when she decided to join the Army at age 17 in 1997. Kaur, also 17, was in
the USA for nine years when she joined California National Guard in 2002.
Patel joined the Army because she wanted to pay for her own
education and didnít want to work through the college like her sister. She found
the military to be a better way to earn tuition money. Kaur, daughter of a grape
grower who used to work in the computer industry, thought that service in
National Guard will lead to more opportunities in life as she told Sacramento
Since both girls were minors they had to take the permissions
of their parents, which wasnít easy. Patel recalled, "My mother wasnít the
happiest person in the world, I can tell you that." An uncle, her motherís
brother, urged her mother to let her go ahead with her life and get the
experience on her own. Even the Army recruiter, who came to meet her family, had
to endure a drilling by her elder sister, who wanted to know all about what
Patel would be doing in the Army.
The life in the military proved to be a great experience for
Patel, who a year after joining in 1998, was shipped out for a two-and-half year
stint to Germany with the 59th Chemical Company. She had an impressive title of
Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Decontamination Specialist, which is a fancy
way to say that she was responsible for the cleaning up of chemical and bio
hazards and contamination on person and equipment.
By 2000, Patel had become a Sergeant and was posted at Fort
Drum, New York. From then on she and her company went on for a roller coaster
ride. In the fall of 2001, they were being trained at Fort Polk, Louisiana to go
to Macedonia when their mission was suddenly changed to go to Afghanistan and
After Hurricane Katrina, the Guru Granth Sahib in a New
Orleans Gurdwara could not be removed before mandatory evacuation. When the
appeals to authorities and a letter to President Bush did not produce any result
then Kaur was able to help by arranging a rescue operation. Now she is going to
Afghanistan after a two week training at the Yakima Training Center in
"The soldier doesnít have time to think that Ďoh man if I
shoot this man or woman itís going to be someoneís wife, husband, son or
daughter. The soldier sees a threat and itís eliminated." Patel once wrote. Now
she wants to eliminate pains and miseries too by becoming a nurse. Out of active
duty, she is pursuing her BS degree and plans to join a nursing program. She
wants to get back on the active duty in 2008 as an officer in the Army Nurse
The experience of Army is such that people frequently have a change of heart
as Patel says, "The initial reason was education and now I want to go back
because I like the military I like the structure."