On the far right, Army First Lt. Varun Hollabbi with his platoon in Afghanistan in 2015 (Photo: Varun Hollabbi)
On the far right, Army First Lt. Varun Hollabbi with his platoon in Afghanistan in 2015 (Photo: Varun Hollabbi)

DEARBORN, Mich. (Diya TV) — When Army First Lt. Varun Hollabbi was a freshman at the University of Michigan, he wanted to try something different, and became interested in joining the military. He joined the school’s Army ROTC program.

Now, Hollabbi is a first lieutenant with a Bronze Star Medal he received for his service last year in Afghanistan, where he led a platoon.

“I saw the military as a viable career path,” the 25-year-old Hollabbi said. “I thought there was nothing more noble that I could do. On a daily basis, I could feel like I’m having an impact on society, which is what I truly feel every day. It’s not just a regular job for me. … I didn’t see a lot of people take this path. I wanted to be a trailblazer and go for it.”

When he joined the military, though concerned he would be unable to maintain his vegetarian diet, his family was supportive. The Army has vegetarian meal options available for its troops, Hollabbi shared with his family, who added he found his experience in the military to be a very welcoming and diverse environment.

“The Army and the military as a whole is a pretty good reflection of our society’s diversity,” he said. “My platoon had people from all parts of the country, all socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s a representation of everyone.”

“With my generation coming of age now, you see a lot more Indian Americans serving.”

After graduating from the University of Michigan with a dual degree in neuroscience and political economics, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team with the 10th Mountain Division in Ft. Drum, N.Y., where he’s currently based.

On Sunday, Hollabbi will be honored at Dearborn’s annual Spirit of India event, where thousands of Indian Americans are expected to be in attendance. The festival celebrates Indian culture and includes music, food as well as honoring young Indian Americans like Hollabbi. Other recipients include youngsters who have exceeded in sports and academics.

“We’re part of the fabric of this country now, and so I think it’s part of our duty now to serve,” Hollabbi said. “It’s a way to give back.”

The event was created by MIIndia.com —a website created by Anand Kumar that lists Indian-American activities in Michigan — in 2004, and reaches about 100,000 people every month. Kumar hopes the website and event will ultimately serve as a tool for introducing the public to the Indian American community.

There are north of 100,000 Indian-Americans currently living in Michigan, according to 2014 U.S. census figures.

“The community is growing and trying to make a positive impact on Michigan’s economy,” Kumar said. “A lot are in job-creating positions in IT, engineering and medicine that can help Michigan’s economy.”

Information from the Detroit Free Press contributed to this report.