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 Women in Blue

by David Westheimer


A recent episode of JAG (Judge Advocate General), the CBS series about a Navy legal team, is based on an actual event last year in Saudi Arabia. The TV drama was about a woman Navy pilot assigned to an Air Force unit who resented, and rebelled against, the requirement that she wear the abaya, the black head-to-toe enveloping garment worn by pious Saudi Arabian women, not drive an automobile or even ride in the front seat off the military base. She voiced her objections up the chain of command, was rebuffed, got a lawyer and sued Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Thats what Lt. Col. Martha McSally, the Air Forces ranking woman fighter pilot and first woman to fly combat aircraft in enemy territory did when stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. She knew it might derail her fast-track career in the Air Force, but as she told CBS News Correspondent Lesley Stahl, "I can fly a single-seated aircraft in enemy territory but I cant drive a vehicle. They turned me into a fighter pilot. This is who I am. When I see something messed up, Im going to challenge it."

CBS News Senior Staff Writer Jim Burns, wrote that Steve Aden, one of Lt. Col. McSallys lawyers, said, "Even though she is the commander for all those enlisted men and junior officers around her, she is ordered to sit in the back seat, wear this Muslim attire and in essence pretend she is a Muslim woman until they get to the base, at which time she can take it off and be a superior officer again."

And she won. Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the US Central Command, e-mailed commanders in the area that wearing the abaya "is not mandatory but is strongly encouraged." Which means servicewomen dont have to wear it if they dont want to. And you just know Lt. Col. McSally doesnt. And wont.

But she still wouldn't be able to operate an automobile off base or ride in the front seat. (McSally transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona last December.)

According to the Air Force Times newspaper, Army Reserve Major Shareda Hosein, is studying to be a military chaplain at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. The unusual thing about this is, she plans on being a Muslim chaplain when she completes the course in two-and-a-half years. She says she wants to teach other Service members about her faith.

Retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Qaseem Uqdah, executive director of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, told the Air Force Times Karen Jowers, "Its long overdue. The reality of Islam in America is that women are within our armed forces. We have to deal with women. I owe a responsibility to Muslim women as well as men, and I havent been able to fulfill their needs."

I sent the clipping about Major Hosein to my Muslim-American in-law and he found it a bit of a surprise. He said under Islamic law she could counsel men but could not preach to them.

There are now 12 male military chaplain Muslims. Seven in the Army, three in the Navy and two in the Air Force.

Air National Guard Senior Airman Jennifer Donaldson has also had special training. But not in counseling men. In killing them from ambush. Senior Airman Donaldson completed two weeks of counter-sniper training at Camp Robertson, Arkansas and is the first servicewoman to be designated a sniper. The Army, Navy and Marines dont allow women to serve as snipers but the Air Force, which has no snipers, has no rules prohibiting them from being snipers.

Russia has a big lead on the US in this field of endeavor. In World War II, Russia had a woman sniper who was so expert at gunning down enemy men that she was brought to this country to help publicize a big war bond drive.
© David Westheimer for

Editor's Note: Read David's other articles on Lt Col McSally: Women in Blue: Round II and More Martha, as well as a reference in Killer Chick.


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