Duo Punjabi sisters balpreet and jasleen khaira serving in US Army. Staff Sgt. Balreet Khaira and Sgt. Jasleen Khaira were part of a 12-Soldier Cal Guard contingent at exercise Yudh Abhyas 2014, which took place Sept. 17-30 at Ranikhet Cantonment, India. The annual Yudh Abhyas exercise is sponsored by the U.S. Army Pacific Command. Each year, it alternates between India and the United States. The exercise has a goal of increasing interoperability between the armies of the world’s two largest democracies. A big part of the exercise each year involves cultural exchanges intended to increase understanding between soldiers from two very different nations with different cultural backgrounds and military traditions.
“The Khaira sisters have been a living symbol of the strong bonds between India and the United States and a bridge between the U.S. and Indian armies,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Koop, who was responsible for assembling the Cal Guard team. “They are proud of both their ancestral homeland and their adopted homeland, and have worked tirelessly to help Soldiers from both countries understand each other and grow towards mutual understanding and interoperability.”
The sisters have taken part in the three Yudh Abhyas exercises-in Alaska in 2010; in Bathinda, India, in 2012; and in the most recent exercise at Ranikhet in the shadow of the Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.
“The Indian soldiers obviously love it that we’re Indian and in the U.S. Army,” Sgt. Jasleen Khaira said. “I think the biggest thing the Indian Army has learned from us is that we don’t just move to America and lose our roots. America is very diverse and you have all these populations that do keep their culture while still being part of the larger American culture. You can do both. You don’t have to get rid of one to participate in the other.”
Due to their father’s work in port cities, the sisters had an international upbringing spending the first part of their childhood in Africa, Hong Kong, Macao and their native state of Punjab, India, before immigrating to the U.S. when they were 12 and 14, just a week before 9/11. Their family finally settled in Temecula, Calif.
Their family had no military tradition in the United States or India, and the family expectation was for the sisters to complete higher education degrees and pursue medical careers. But both said something about the Army appealed to them.
“Growing up we’ve always been into doing something that’s just a little bit different than what everyone else does,” Staff Sgt. Balreet Khaira said.
Balreet enlisted in the California Army National Guard at 17. She said she wanted the challenge and experience of being an Army medic, which she felt would be an advantage later on in a civilian medical career. During her military career, she deployed to Iraq, while also managing to complete a bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Riverside. Her long-term goal is to enter medical school and become a physician. She serves as a platoon sergeant for C Company, 40th Brigade Support Battalion, out of Montebello, California.And if that isn’t enough, she also finds the time to own and operate a 7-Eleven convenience store in Mission Viejo, California.
Jasleen followed in her sister’s footsteps and enlisted in the Cal Guard as a medic while a student at U.C. Riverside. Currently, she serves as a squad leader with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 578th Brigade Engineer Battalion, out of Manhattan Beach, California. On the civilian side, she was recently hired as a registered nurse at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and is studying to be a nurse practitioner