Airmen advise Afghan women officers, instill hope

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexandria Mosness
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs
The four Afghan air force lieutenants stand at a petite five feet, their uniforms bear the proud patches of military members serving their country. They wear something that is not common in the Afghan air force - a hijab, a head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women.

These women are trying to make the anomaly of women in the military a thing of the past.

The Afghan air force Kabul Wing was the first to graduate six female Afghan maintenance officers in 2012.

"We are here to give oversight and support along with technical expertise," said Maj. Jennifer Bradley, 440th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron flightline maintenance adviser, who is deployed from Detachment 510 at the University of New Mexico as an Air Force ROTC instructor.

"We show them new aircraft and how to maintain it," Bradley added.

But, it is not only about learning the job, but showing the women there is someone they can look up to and see they have succeeded, said Capt. Vanessa Vanden Bout, 439th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, gender integration adviser and force support squadron adviser, who is deployed from 3rd Air Force, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

"Bradley has shown them they are not just females but individuals," continued the Vermilion, Ohio native. "She is giving them both courage and hope to serve their country. It's plain and simple mentorship. That's what she's teaching them."

The major wanted to show the Afghan female officers the capabilities of women.

"I wanted to show them a woman could be in charge," Bradley passionately said. "In the beginning, we would go out to the flightline and I would advise the women and one of my male technical sergeants would advise the men. I said hold up; we need to switch this around. So, we changed spots and my male technical sergeant started talking to the women and saying yes she is a female and she is my boss."

With the mentorship also comes giving these women hope and inspiration. Vanden Bout gave some of that inspiration in the form of a brown two-by-four inch patch with both the American and Afghanistan flag side-by-side along with the word sisters in Dari and English.

Through an interpreter, four of the women sat down to answer questions.

Lieutenants Sakina, Nafisa and Semen were fascinated with being in the military since they were children, they said. For Lt. Ziba it didn't come until she saw a movie where she saw a woman in the military.

"I thought if men could be in the military why can't women?" Nafisa said. "My family was worried at first but now they are encouraging."

Even with the support of their families, it has not been an easy journey for the female officers.

"At first the men would stare and talk about us when they would see us," Sakina said. "The Afghan men would sometimes stand in front of us so we could not pass them."

But now that does not happen.

"We don't want to lose ourselves in their beliefs," Sakina said. "We want to change their ideas and make a bridge to other women, so they can come and join the military."

Throughout her time with the female officers, Vanden Bout has worked hard to present a good image for the young females.

"I hope I am a role model," said Vanden Bout. "I want to display the proper military image. I have always thought if I can't look up and see someone like me at that higher position, how can I get to it? So, I hope I am able to show them it is achievable."

And it has not gone unnoticed by the females they have spent hours mentoring.

"We are very proud to work with them [Bradley and Vanden Bout]," Semen said. "They have done a lot for us. We are very thankful."

What they are doing is not easy, Bradley said.

"I hope they have the strength to continue what they are doing," she continued. "We came in and it was already established for females, so it is hard to tell if I would have been able to do what they are doing. I would like to think so."

While the band of female officers face a tough road ahead, they know the path they are forging can change history.

"We must be brave for other girls, so they can come and join the military," Semen said with determination. "If we are not here, how will they know it is possible?"