Monday, November 15, 2010

DTN News: Afghanistan TODAY November 15, 2010 - Five Females Seeking To Fly For Afghan Air Force

DTN News: Afghanistan TODAY November 15, 2010 - Five Females Seeking To Fly For Afghan Air Force
Sharon WeinbergerThis is the second in a series of stories by our special correspondent about military
aviation issues linked to the war in Afghanistan. Read also the growing pains of the Afghan air force and about the U.S. Air Force's transporter dilemma. Sharon Weinberger Contributor
Source: DTN News - - This article compiled by Roger Smith from reliable sources Sharon Weinberger, AOL News
(NSI News Source Info) KABUL, Afghanistan - November 15, 2010: Masooma Hussaini's path to becoming one of the Aghan air force's first female military pilot candidates began with a TV advertisement encouraging young women to join.
She registered to take the exams for officer candidate school. Just a few months later, she was selected for a new pilot training program. The idea of female military pilots -- some of the most coveted military positions -- would have been unthinkable in Afghanistan just a decade ago, when the Taliban had relegated women to the bottom of the social scale, with no access to education, let alone jobs. But now Hussaini, 19, and four of her female colleagues, have broken yet another barrier: They are second lieutenants in the Afghan air force, on a path to becoming the first newly trained female pilots since the fall of the Taliban.
Masooma Hussaini (left) and another recruit.Sharon Weinberger, AOL News
Afghan air force recruit Masooma Hussaini, left, and another recruit are breaking down barriers in a male-dominated society.
The five women are studying with more than a dozen men at the Thunder Lab, a recently opened English-language and cultural-immersion center for pilot candidates in Kabul. Here, they study English, which is now a requirement for all pilots.
The only modification to the women's uniforms are black scarves covering their hair. Most of the women, like Hussaini, joined after seeing TV advertisements, but they also typically had support -- and even encouragement -- from their family. Khetera Ayoub Pur, another second lieutenant, rattles off the names of family members who have served in the military. For her, joining the military was a family tradition and a matter of national pride. The women, who are still a novelty at the base, will not be Afghan air force's first female pilots, however. There is one female pilot, who was trained before the Taliban regime came to power. But the young women are still very much an anomaly, and, if they do become pilots, they will face two divides: gender and age. The average Afghan military pilot is his mid- to late 40s, and typically trained somewhere in the former Soviet Union. The female pilot candidates -- most of whom are still teenagers -- will be Western-trained and decades younger than many of their counterparts.
The five new female Afghan pilot candidates with their male colleagues.Sharon Weinberger, AOL News
The five new female Afghan pilot candidates pose with their male colleagues.
That age gap -- perhaps as much as the gender divide -- could prove tough for the women. "There's a little bit of baggage" with the older pilots, said Col. Creig Rice, the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander. "With these young guys, it's not a problem." But Rice also credits the Afghan air force commander, Mohammad Dawran, with helping to bring the women into the training program for pilots. "He's a pretty progressive guy," he said. Integrating women into the training curriculum was planned out ahead of time, said U.S. Air Force Capt. Stacey Monaghan, who works closely with the female trainees. The U.S. and other NATO member advisers looked at everything from classroom seating to eating arrangements, she said. In the end, all elements of the training were integrated, even physical training. The only strict physical separation is for living quarters -- the main building houses both the classrooms and the men's dorm rooms; the women live in a building next door. Because there are no physical barriers between the men's rooms and the classroom, silver tape on the floor denotes where the women aren't supposed to go. Likewise, the male officers don't enter the women's living area or even come to close it, according to Lt. Col. John Howard, the head adviser at the Thunder Lab. A joke among the other advisers, Howard said, is that if there were a fire, the men would shout to their female colleagues from the bottom of the building, "Please, please come out." That sort of integration -- professional, but not necessarily personal -- was on display as the female candidates sat in a circle with their male colleagues: The women sat together in a group of three and two, and in a group photo lined up next to each other. The women have only been at the Thunder Lab for two weeks, but in the most critical area of their current training -- learning English -- the women are already besting many of the men. "The women scored better than half the guys," Howard said. In fact, Hassaini's score was high enough to qualify her to go the United States for additional training immediately, Johnson said. But she --- and the other students –- still need cultural training before they depart. Once they do go to the United States, they may spend up to two years there getting additional English language training and then pilot instruction.
Most of the female students are just 19, young by comparison to their Western counterparts, but not for Afghanistan, where the average age of marriage for women is 17.8 years, according the U.N. Development Fund for Women. When asked if they want to get married, Hussaini and her colleagues, who are all single, are adamant: "No, no," they said in unison. Later, they said that they would eventually like to have families, just not now. That, however, raises another question: What role will the female recruits eventually have in a society that expects women their age to already be married and having children? (About half of their male colleagues at the Thunder Lab are married.) Nobody, least of all the American advisers, has a good answer. "It's going to be an experiment," Monaghan said.
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