The career of a female Muslim U.S. Army officer
EDITOR’S NOTE: Columnist John Ostwald submitted daily columns for the week prior to Veterans Day. The columns covered a variety of armed forces issues. The information in the columns came from interviews with veterans and family members, research and John’s perspective as an educator and veteran.
In the U.S. Armed Forces 5,896 military personnel selfidentified as Muslim in their official military records according to the Office of the Secretary of Defense in December 2016. However, Chief Master Sergeant Talib Shareef (retired) Air Force estimated that the numbers are higher and may fluctuate between 10,000 and 15,000 Muslim Military Personnel (MMP).
I have never met Shareda Hosein, a female Muslim American Army officer. My veteran colleagues mentioned her background and her story to me. I contacted her at her home in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was pleasant and articulate, but sounded frail. She said that she was currently dealing with some health problems. After we spoke for a few minutes, she agreed to let me write about her armed forces experiences, and then sent me a scholarly document (33 pages) that delineated her challenges over the past several years.
This provocative document had many elements of a tragic and fascinating short story. In it, Shareda described her thirtyfour-year military career. I have selected excerpts from this document to try and convey her struggles.
“I joined the U.S. Army in 1979 right out of high school to travel the world, get money for college and gain knowledge, just as the advertisements promised. My first day at Hartford Seminary to become a Muslim chaplain in the U.S. Army began on 9/11. It was the biggest shock of my life knowing that Muslim terrorists attacked my country. I knew immediately it was inevitable that we would go to war. I recalled what happened to the Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and wondered if the same fate would befall the American Muslims.”
Shareda continues, “I felt fear from my fellow Americans for the first time living in America. While some Muslims were physically detained, others were monitored through all their communication outlets. There were so many horror stories about people in detention; they weren’t allowed access to counsel, bank accounts were being frozen—all legal under the Patriot Act. Life was scary and uncertain. Even though I was in the military with security clearances, I no longer felt safe in my country.
A month after 9/11, my security officer in my unit pulled me aside and briefly said, “Shareda, I don’t know if you thought about this, but you may want to consider that the military personnel may not trust you and your Muslim community also may not trust you because you serve in the U.S. military.” I was shocked at his statement. I wondered why my colleagues would distrust me after having known me for many years. How could they imagine that my loyalties wouldn’t lie with the nation that I had served for over 20 years?”
This emotional turmoil led Shareda to research the topic of moral injury as it applied to her and others in the military. She stated, “How does moral injury affect serving in the United States Military’s longest wars? MMP are perceived as a threat to the safety and security of the United States, which exacerbates their emotional state of mind, because they do not feel included as valuable assets within their units.”
General George Casey, Chief of Staff of the Army, spoke up during an interview with Reuters News (2009). He said “I’m concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers.” Casey added, “I think we as an Army have to be broad enough to bring in people from all walks of life. The military benefits from diversity. Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is strength and as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse”.
At the end of my conversation with Shareda, she asked me to convey this message to my readers, “I would like for the American citizens to put some pressure on their politicians to stop the war that has been going for too long—seventeen years. I am pleased to learn about the high numbers of veterans who ran for office in this midterm elections. Maybe these Vets going to DC can bring our troops home ASAP.”
Lt. Col. Shareda Hosein