The ca­reer of a fe­male Mus­lim U.S. Army of­fi­cer

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - OPINION - John Ost­wald Then + Now John Ost­wald is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of psy­chol­ogy at Hud­son Val­ley Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Troy. Email him at jrost­wald33@gmail.com.

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.”

PHOTO PRO­VIDED

Lt. Col. Shareda Ho­sein

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