Lieutenant Jasbir Singh Tatla
Tatla is first turbaned Sikh regular officer in Canadian Air Force
No one in the Canadian military had ever had to decide what type of turban was appropriate for an air force officer, so Tatla was told whatever he selected would become the standard, setting a precedent for every Sikh who follows him into the service At 35, Tatla was a married father of two with no previous military training who had arrived at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt west of Victoria about 30 pounds overweight. A vegetarian non-drinker sporting a turban, he was the only Sikh going through basic officer training. He’d never so much as held a gun.
Today, Lieutenant Jasbir Singh Tatla, 35, is the first turbaned Sikh to have become a regular officer in the Canadian Air Force as Air Field Engineer. Tatla was born in Dhothar village in Ludhiana district of Punjab, India. He attended Central School, Halwara, and G.H.G Khalsa College, Gurusar Sudhar, Tatla earned his Bachelor of Engineering from G.N.E. Engineering College, Ludhiana, and Master of Technology from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.
Tatla immigrated to Canada in June, 1999. He completed a one-year Architectural Drafting certification from Kwantlen University College in Surrey and worked in different fields, including as an Engineering Technician in PMC Sierra in Burnaby. He became director of Blacktop and Checker Cabs Ltd. Company in Vancouver in 2007.
Tatla’s great-grandfather, Inder Singh, took part in the First World War, his grandfather, Mall Singh, took part in the Burma War, and his father, Gurdarshan Singh, retired as an Honorary Flying Officer. An uncle of his, Sukhdev Singh, was a brigadier in the Indian Army. With that illustrious background, Tatla, in 2003, passed the Canadian Forces entrance examination and waited four years for a security background check from India. He was detailed to undergo training at Venture Naval Officers Training Center Esquimalt, Victoria, in April. His graduation ceremony was held on July 12.
After a struggle of five years, Tatla not only achieved his goal, but has also brought honour to his community. Tatla gives all the credit to his mother Hardial Kaur and father Gurdarshan Singh Tatla for their dedication. He has two sisters, Jasvinder Kaur Mann and Kamaljit Kaur. He is married to Pawandeep and the couple have two sons, Sahib and Jugraj. Tatla is a bachelor of engineering and holds a master of technology degree too. When he was working as an engineering technician at a Burnaby firm, he was laid off after the 9/11 tragedy caused a slowdown in the high-tech sector. He became a cab driver, worked his way up to become a director of Blacktop and Checker Cabs Ltd. in Vancouver. He was doing all right, but almost every time Tatla would talk to his grandfather, the retired soldier would press his grandson to do better. One day Tatla learned the Canadian air force was looking for engineers. It was a chance to do the kind of work he was trained for. He applied. It took four years before he cleared the necessary background checks. He made it through basic training, becoming the first turban-wearing Sikh air force officer in Canada.
For his graduation ceremony, Tatla chose a light blue fabric for his turban to go with the air force blue of his dress uniform. No one in the Canadian military had ever had to decide what type of turban was appropriate for an air force officer, so Tatla was told whatever he selected would become the standard, setting a precedent for every Sikh who follows him into the service. On the day he became a second lieutenant, the sergeant who’d pushed Tatla and the other trainees so hard saluted Tatla and called him “sir.” The newly minted officer says it is a memory he will carry with him for the rest of his life.