US Army’s ‘Specialist Kaur’ is back in Iraq action

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Chandigarh : The burst from a malfunctioning automatic weapon may have injured her but not her spirit to be where the action is. Gunner Ranbir Kaur, a Jat-Sikh girl born in India, is headed back to Iraq for patrol duty with the US National Guards.

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Being in the middle of hotspots is nothing new for Kaur, 21. She was assigned duty in war-ravaged Iraq earlier this year after having done a stint in patrolling the streets of another hotspot, the Afghan capital Kabul.

After her injury in November, Kaur rested for four weeks and on Saturday she headed back for Iraq.

“She is very determined. The accident in Iraq meant a cooling off period for her in the US. But she is now headed back to work in Iraq. She seemed quite enthusiastic about going back there,” Hoshiarpur-based horticulturist-author Khushwant Singh, who featured her in his book “Sikhs Unlimited” this year, told IANS after speaking to her in the US this week.

Kaur’s new assignment in Iraq will be as a trucker and a gunner at an undisclosed Iraq city.

The dauntless Kaur slung an M-16 rifle on her shoulders when she was 17. At 20, she patrolled the mean streets of Kabul in 2006.

“I have test-fired almost every weapon in the US Army now,” Kaur told the author in his book that featured successful Sikh men and women among the Indian diaspora. He referred to her as “Specialist Kaur” – a name she acquired in the US forces.

She was the first Sikh girl to join the US Armed Forces, becoming one among the over 200,000 women soldiers in the force. That was in 2003. Her work in Afghanistan and Iraq has ranged from protecting airports, streets of Kabul and heritage and religious buildings.

For a girl whose favourite conversation line is “If I gotta go, I’m gonna go”, things were not as easy even after she joined the US Armed Forces. She received hate mails and one criticism levelled against her was that she found it convenient to join the US forces in order to get citizenship. The truth, however, is that she got her citizenship before she joined the forces.

“In countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, everything is frontline. If death does not deter me, nothing else can,” she told Khushwant. She took an “awesome” fascination for the uniform while still in high school where marines and regulars from forces used to distribute fliers to students outside the school career centre.

Born in Nijjran village of Punjab’s non-resident Indian (NRI)-dominated Jalandhar district, the young girl reached US shores as a seven-year-old after her father Mahan Singh, pursuing dollar dreams, secured a US green card in 1990.

Singh, who lives with his large family in San Joaquin Valley, Earlimart-California, is now a grape-grower.

Kaur’s liking for action was revealed when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. She responded to the request of an organisation, the United Sikhs, to help salvage from the rubble the holy book of the Sikhs – Guru Granth Sahib – also referred to by the community as a living guru.