DATE January 30, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Martha McSally discusses her lawsuit against the
Defense Department challenging its regulations requiring female
military personnel in Saudi Arabia to adhere to Islamic customs
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally, filed a lawsuit against the
Defense Department last month challenging its regulations requiring female
military personnel in Saudi Arabia to adhere to certain Islamic customs when
they leave their military base. Commander McSally was stationed in Saudi
Arabia from November of 2000 to December 2001. Anytime she left the base,
She had to wear the full body veil, known as the abaya, she had to be escorted
By a male, she was not allowed to drive a vehicle, and when she was in one, she
had to sit in the backseat. These are the regulations that she's
Earlier this month, the military eased one of those regulations. It's no
longer mandatory that women wear the body veil off base, but the new order
from General Tommy Franks says it is, quote, "strongly encouraged."
Colonel McSally is the Air Force's highest-ranking female fighter pilot.
She was one of the first seven women trained as a fighter pilot. I spoke with
Her yesterday. We'll hear from her lawyer and a military spokesperson a little
later. Colonel McSally told me that she's been trying to change the
regulations for military women in Saudi Arabia since 1995 and filed her suit
only after protesting within the chain of command. Initially, she was
working on behalf of other women. She thought it was ironic when she was assigned to the Saudi military base.
Lieutenant Colonel MARTHA McSALLY (US Air Force): I did speak with the
commander prior to being assigned over there, and I explained to him my
strong conviction from an obligation as an officer and as a Christian that, you
know, I believe this was not a lawful order and I was going to try and encourage a change in the policy from the inside, and that I hoped he could honor my
personal conviction that I just could never put the abaya on myself. And I
told him I would not go off base at all for leisure while I was on my
one-year assignment over there and I wasn't sure if I was going to be told or ordered to go off base to do my job. But I just could never put the abaya on.
About three days prior to my departure for Saudi Arabia, my whole house is
packed up--my dog and car--with my brothers. I have two green duffel bags
to my name, and I'm heading out overseas for a one-year remote assignment, and I get told by a friend of mine who's a chaplain serving in Saudi Arabia that,
in fact, I was going to be forced to wear the abaya immediately upon arrival,
that I was going to land at one base and I was going to have to travel to
another base, and they were going to force me to sit in the backseat and put
this Muslim outfit on.
And I couldn't believe it was applied that extensively, but I sent an e-mail
over to the commander's chief of staff reminding them of the conversation I
had with the general about my conviction and that I would be wearing very
loose-fitting Western clothing, conservative clothing. And now two days
prior to my departure, I received e-mails from the chief of staff and the judge
advocate threatening that I would be court-martialed if I didn't follow this
order. So I was put in this position immediately before I even arrived to
my assignment to follow an order or follow my conviction as an officer and a
GROSS: So what did you do?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, I initially decided that I was going to disobey it,
and I was going to accept the court-martial and I was going to hopefully
have that as a venue to bring about a change in the policy at, obviously, great
personal cost to myself. But I just--a conviction is a conviction.
And so I decided to do that, and I went to tell my current commander now on
Monday--I was leaving Tuesday night, so I asked for an appointment with him
and went to meet with him to tell him that I was about to torch myself over
this conviction in the hope that I could bring about a change to the policy.
And he eloquently urged me, in a very long meeting, to abide by the policy
one time. He said, `You need to just get to the base. You've got to get on the
inside. They've got to see you as an officer and a warrior and a fighter
pilot, and then you can bring about a change from the inside. If you're
hoping to change a policy, you're never going to do it by refusing to wear
it. You're just going to be punished. You'll be out of the Air Force. That'll
be the end of you and the policy will never change. You have a unique
opportunity, you know, you should take it.'
So, you know, I left his office and I agonized. I mean, this was a couple
of long, sleepless nights of thinking and praying, talking to some mentors. I
mean, I had not idea it was going to come to this place after all these
GROSS: So what did you do? Did you wear it on the way to the base?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: So I decided to, against my gut feeling, take his advice.
So I flew into Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, in the middle of the
night, and I was briefed by a young enlisted man that I had to sit in the
back of the car and put on this whole outfit. And I got into a car as the
highest-ranking person there, at in the backseat, put on the abaya and the
abaya scarf. And now we are traveling in the middle of the night in a
Suburban with dark, tinted windows with a bunch of American military men in
short hair and colored shirts and jeans traveling from this one base to the
And I realized then, from my own personal experience, that not only was the
policy wrong, but it was just completely irrational and unnecessary. So
that was my first experience. And I thought, `Well, I'll just wear it one time
and I can bring about a change.' Well, that didn't happen. They kept forcing
me to leave the base to do my job, putting me in a position, you know, to say,
`Well, this is a leadership issue. You've got to go, you know, do this and
this to do your job.' So on several occasions I was put in this dilemma to
follow my faith and my oath of office or follow this order. So...
GROSS: And each time you put on the full body veil when you needed to?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Each time I put on--yeah. Yeah. And I--and
after--actually, for the first month, when asked to go do different
functions, I sent my deputy and I sent other people who worked for me. I delegated. And I just thought, `Well, let me just get my feet on the ground and get established here and get a reputation, and then, perhaps, I can bring this
up,' because, I mean, the policy could have changed so quickly and so easily
no one would have noticed. If I was wearing American clothes in that car in
the middle of the night, nobody would have noticed. So I met with the--I
asked to meet with the general after one month there and, you know, I asked
him to change the policy immediately for situations like I just mentioned.
Travel to and from different bases and going to the International Airport
And going to the Royal Saudi Air Force headquarters to do briefings, certainly,
I shouldn't wear an abaya, I should be wearing my US uniform if I'm going to
give a briefing as an American officer. And so I asked if they--he would
immediately change it for those situations and then work with whoever to
change it for women going off base for leisure. But it was--he could have
changed them all. It was at his level, legal authority-wise, to change them,
and at that point I was told by the judge advocate and the chief of staff
that `The general is not going to change. You know, the risk outweighs the
benefit. You're the only one who cares about it. You know, get out of
here. Don't bring this up again. It's over.' And this was one month into my 12
GROSS: What impact did you feel like it had on your authority when you were
the highest-ranking person in the car, but you had to wear the abaya, the
full body veil, and sit in the backseat?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, it clearly confuses what we hold dear in the
military, which is a clear line of authority. Everyone knows who is above
who and who's below who. And we have to be able to snap orders out in a
moment's notice and everyone has to respect that authority. Also, we pride
ourselves on doing the mission by having unit cohesion. Everyone is treated
the same, even if we're all, you know, sucking it up with horrible
conditions, excuse my slang, then we're all doing it together, and you don't separate people and treat them differently. So, you know, it certainly is confusing for, you know, young men to, on the one hand, be taking orders from a woman; on the other hand, you know, they're driving me around when I can't drive, and I have to sit in the back and put on this demeaning and humiliating outfit. So, you know, it clearly confuses our basic military tenets when we impose policies like this on our gals.
GROSS: Let me read from some of the military dress requirements for the
base in Saudi Arabia. It says that `You can't wear civilian attire that may be
offensive to the host nation. This includes items of clothing with holes or
pictures and writings that are offensive to local standards of decency--for
example, alcohol slogans or advertisements, pictures of bodies not fully
covered, etc. Men will wear civilian shirts with collars and hemmed
sleeves. Shirts will not be unbuttoned below the collarbone and shirts with tails
will be tucked in. Wear pants that are full-length. Jeans may be worn that are
not ragged or torn. Can't wear earrings. All tattoos may be offensive,
particularly unclothed women. Religious symbols will be concealed.'
So men are allowed to wear shirts and even jeans, as long as the jeans are
not--you know, don't have any holes in them.
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Yeah, norm--yeah. Yeah. Well, the amazing thing there
is there is another paragraph in that regulation that prohibits men from
wearing any local customary clothing. So in one paragraph...
GROSS: Oh, actually, let me read that. Let me read that. It says `Men
shall not wear host nation attire, such as the thobe, or long robe, and the gutra,
or headdress.' What is the thobe? That is the long robe?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: That is the traditional long robe, long white robe that
the men wear, and then the gutra is the headdress.
GROSS: What's your understanding of the reason why men are not allowed to
wear the traditional Saudi dress while women, until very recently, were
required to wear the Saudi dress?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Actually, I don't have a very good understanding, because
it seems irrational to me. But what I've been told is that the local people
would be offended by our American military men wearing their local clothing,
especially if they don't wear it correctly, and that, again, the Saudis are
not asking our women to wear the abaya and the abaya scarves, so I'm not
really sure where that inconsistency came from. It's one of the irrational
portions of this policy that has caused me to try and bring about change.
GROSS: Were there many other women on the base in Saudi Arabia when you
were stationed there?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Yes, there were. I can't give you the exact number, but
there was several hundred.
GROSS: And how--what percentage would you say sided with you on challenging these regulations?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, I didn't take an official poll, but I can say,
anecdote wise, I had several women who worked for me, worked around me show a tremendous amount of support that--and I've even still continued to receive e-mails from women in uniform, you know, for trying to bring about this
GROSS: And what about the men on the base? Did a lot of men agree with
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Actually, a lot of them did. Again, a lot of the men who
worked for me and worked around me and some who worked--who were senior
ranking to me would pull me aside, of course quietly, and say, you know,
`You're doing the right thing,' you know, `for America and for your faith
and for your oath of office, and we're behind you.' So there were a great
number of men who were supportive of me. There were also, you know, those who didn't understand at all because, quite frankly, it didn't apply to them, and so they thought, `Eh, what's the big deal, you know? Just put the thing on, you
know? Is it hurting you to put it on?' And, you know, I would say, `Well, it
didn't hurt Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus either, but that's not the
criteria we use for whether something's right or wrong.'
So--and there definitely were some people--not necessarily, you know, by
gender--above me that were very upset with me and, you know, talking about
my conviction and telling me that my choices and my actions in this matter were
disloyal and unprofessional, and I was exuding poor leadership. All these
things that they promoted me early for, in the past, I all of a sudden
didn't have anymore because I was raising this issue and drawing a line in the
sand, saying, `This is unconstitutional, it's un-American and it's got to change.'
GROSS: My guest is Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally. We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally. She's suing the
Defense Department over regulations that restrict the behavior of American
military women in Saudi Arabia when they leave the base. One of the
restrictions, wearing the full body veil known as the abaya, was eased this
month. The abaya is no longer mandatory off-base, but it is still, quote,
Colonel, why do you object to wearing the abaya? And I should say that, you
know, a lot of women journalists who have had to--for example, who have had
to cover stories in Saudi Arabia and in other Muslim countries have worn the
body veil when they've had to in order to get the interview. You know what I
mean? And in a way it's like going undercover, but doing what you have to to get the job done. But for you that seemed really inappropriate. Why did you object so much to wearing the abaya, so much so that you put your career in the
military on the line for it?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, yeah. First of all, for myself. Again, I'm a
follower of Christ, and my Christian faith is the centerpiece of who I am,
and to be forced to put on the garment of a religion that I do not believe in
and a faith I do not follow, to me, was unacceptable. And secondly, I
am--I—not just me, but the women who this affects, the officers and enlisted serving over there, we are putting our lives on the line to serve our nation, and we are over in Saudi Arabia as officials of the United States government and
the United States military, doing a mission over there alongside the men. And
the dynamics that I tried to explain earlier, aside from the religious issue, is
wearing the abaya and the abaya head scarf, sitting in the backseat, not
being able to drive and having your subordinates have to claim you as their--you
know, as his wife, as opposed to his supervisor, is so demeaning and so
humiliating, to treat just some of our people in that way for reasons that I
still haven't been able to get a very solid answer on is unacceptable.
GROSS: What about other Western women in Saudi Arabia, women working for
the State Department or the wives and daughters of male diplomats who are based there? Do they have to wear...
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Yeah, that was the amazing thing I discovered once I
started looking into this, seven years ago now, is--I was told initially
when I asked--I heard about the policy, I saw a picture of an American woman
wearing an abaya and I got a copy of the regulation. I just couldn't
believe our women in Saudi Arabia were being forced to wear this. So I started to do some research, and when I asked some basic questions--`Who's responsible for this policy? When did it come into effect? Where did it come from and
why?'--the answers I got were very vague, `Well, it's way above our pay
grade. It's a State Department issue. It's a host nation thing.' These are the
kind of things I was told.
And, you know, when I looked into it, I realized you know, not only was it
not imposed by the State Department, but State Department women working over there are told they can't wear the abaya when they're doing official government business because they're representatives of the United States government, and they are not forced to wear it during their leisure time. Madeleine Albright goes over to Riyadh. She certainly isn't going to wear an abaya. That undermines her authority. And so then I found out that, you know, friends of mine who were, you know, co-workers of mine, male military members, were getting stationed over there and their wives were not forced to wear the abaya, but I was. So very inconsistent. It appeared when it came down to it that the Saudis weren't asking for it, the State Department wasn't asking
for it; the American military was somehow doing this to itself.
GROSS: Have you ever asked yourself what the military reaction would be if
men had to dress in Saudi garb?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: In fact, I've tried to paint that word picture for
people, you know, as I've responded to this, is I think that there would be, you
know, an uprising if our men had to, you know, grow beards and put on the local customary clothing just to, you know, get along or blend in or whatever the
reasons are that I've heard that women have to do it, you know,
especially--you know, I'm a fighter pilot and we tend to have an
in-your-face, you know, type-A personality that, you know, raises issues and confronts them when they're nonsensical. So I'm responding to it in the same way that any of them would respond to, you know, men being treated in that way.
GROSS: I'm wondering, when you talk to your military commanders about why
the regulation was in place about wearing the abaya, the body veil, were you
told that this was about respect for cultural differences or were you told that
it was fear that we would alienate the Saudis if woman were more exposed?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Actually, I was told many different things over the
years. The first thing I was told back in 1995 was it was for, quote, "host nation
sensitivities," and that one stuck for awhile. And as I then found the
paperwork that said the Saudis were not asking non-Muslim women to wear the
abaya and the abaya scarf and that State Department women and other European
women and, you know, Western women were not wearing the abaya and the abaya scarf, I brought that to their attention. And then just recently as I was
in this dilemma as to whether to abide by it myself, the issue--or the
reasoning I was given was force protection, `We have to protect our troops from
terrorist attacks, so we have to blend in like never before.'
In fact, in those e-mails that I referenced earlier that went back and forth
in my few days prior to arrival, I was told things like, `You wouldn't want
to put the young enlisted transportation personnel's lives in danger because of
your crusade.' So they paint this picture that, should I not wear an abaya,
somehow I'm, you know, inviting a terrorist attack on our people by not
blending in. As I would then come back and say, `Help me out here. We've
got a bunch of clearly American military men wearing jeans and collared shirts
with American military women, you know, wearing the abaya and the abaya head scarf. We are not blending in. We look like American military men with
American military women wearing abayas. Or even worse, we look like
American military men with a local woman, which would cause a tremendous amount of offense.' So, you know, this whole idea that we would blend in to avoid a terrorist attack, that the terrorists would have, you know, our car in their
sights and then they would, you know, perhaps see a woman in an abaya and
go, `Oh, it must not be Americans,' is just ludicrous.
And when I pointed that out to them, the next argument was, `Oh, OK, we need
to protect our women from harassment downtown.' And again, I pointed out
that that was irrational because most of the women I talked to who wore abayas
downtown were harassed. You know, the local religious police would come and
correct how they were wearing it, because they clearly were under their
jurisdiction. When you put that outfit on, you're inviting yourself, you
know, to be under the jurisdiction of the locals and have them correct the
way you wear it. Whereas I talked to State Department women who never wore the abaya and never got harassed. So that's a myth as well, I think. I think,
you know, you randomly are going to get harassed downtown. And to be
treating our female service members like property in order to protect somehow some people in an allied nation from terrorizing them certainly isn't the
ultimate solution that I would come up with if I was in charge.
GROSS: We'll hear more about Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally's lawsuit
against the Defense Department in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Lieutenant Colonel
Martha McSally, the first woman in US military history to fly a fighter
aircraft in a combat mission. Now she's suing the Defense Department,
challenging regulations that restrict the behavior of female military
personnel in Saudi Arabia when they travel off base.
When she was in Saudi Arabia last year, any time she left the base, she had
to wear a full body veil and be escorted by a male. She wasn't allowed to
drive off base. And when she was in a vehicle, she had to be in the backseat.
These are the regulations she's challenged. One regulation was eased this
month. The military no longer requires the body veil, but women are, quote,
"strongly encouraged to wear it off base."
My guests are Colonel McSally and her lawyer John Whitehead of the
Rutherford Institute, which also represented Paula Jones in her suit against President Clinton.
Let me just start with this question: Colonel, why did you decide to
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, I came to that decision, again, after over six
years of trying to bring about a change to these policies from the inside. After
about a year of bringing it up with the current chain of command that was
over there, after eight months of abiding by this policy myself, after four
months of a promised policy review to take this seriously after five senators wrote to the secretary of Defense about it, I waited and I waited and I waited for
a change. And in August, I decided that I would let the third branch of the
government take a look at it, and hopefully bring about a change from the
The Rutherford Institute contacted me in April, following a USA Today
article that came out, offering their legal assistance. And we stayed in contact,
but waited for those four months thinking that perhaps the policy would changed unilaterally since there was a policy review going on. And I kept asking, `What's the status of the policy review,' April, May, June, July, August,
and it wasn't going to come out any time soon. So I decided in August--I told
them in August, `Hey, I'm going to file this lawsuit in two weeks, so if
there was going to be a policy review that was going to come out, now would be a very good time for it to come out so we could avoid all this.' And then we
delayed it till December because September 11th happened and, obviously, our
nation was grieving and our military mission was very focused. But I filed
it right before I left.
GROSS: John Whitehead, why did you want to take on this suit?
Mr. WHITEHEAD: Well, we thought it was, you know, of course, very important constitutional issues. And in the lawsuit we allege a number of things.
And there are three First Amendment claims. One is the freedom of religion
claim. We feel that by forcing Colonel McSally to wear a religious outfit, which is the abaya--it's required by Islamic law for women to wear in Saudi
Arabia—and for her to have to wear that and pretend she's Islamic, which, of course, violates her religious freedom as a Christian.
Also by wearing the abaya, it really forces her to give a message or violate
her free speech. It forces her to speak. And what it really says is
that--what the abaya symbolizes is that women are the property of men. And
it's forcing her to say, `Yes, I agree with this principle, that women are
the property of men.' Of course, she objects to that.
Another key claim in the First Amendment is based on really our church-state
clause, the establishment clause. And by the government purchasing the
abaya--the military purchasing the abaya and forcing women to wear it, we
feel it's establishing a religion and violates our church-state clause.
And also there is a cause of action under the Religious Freedom Restoration
Act, which says that if the government in any way violates a person's
religious freedom, they have to show that they have a compelling state
interest to do so. And even if they can show a compelling state interest,
they have to show that they can accomplish it by the least restrictive means
And the other claim is our Fifth Amendment claim, which is that this is
gender discrimination, that obviously--and from what we've heard it's very clear
that women are treated differently than men and discriminated against and,
therefore, it's a violation of the Fifth Amendment of our Constitution.
GROSS: Earlier this month, General Tommy Franks issued a new directive
about the abaya. And this directs local commanders to revise policies to reflect
that wearing the full body veil is not mandatory, but it is strongly
encouraged. I'd like to know how you each interpret `strongly encouraged.'
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, in a military environment, a strongly encouraged
statement by a four-star general to a young enlisted woman can easily be
construed as an order. I mean, I've been in several situations where I was
strongly encouraged to do something, and that was essentially a code word
that we all better be there, or do whatever they were talking about. So you
know, this language to me is troubling because I would hope that, number one, the abaya would truly be optional, that a woman would feel free to make an
informed choice, which is a whole nother issue, to get the right
information, to make an informed choice as to whether she wants to wear it or not, and that nobody would be coercing her even subtly, even her immediate supervisor.
You know, you land in a strange country, you're greeted by someone higher
ranking than you, and they say, `Well, you don't have to wear this, but
you're strongly encouraged to. And, oh, by the way, if you do, you'd probably be safer.' I mean, this is the kind of things that I've seen, you know, or
would envision would go on. So that looks like an order with different
terminology attached to it.
You know, secondly, they're--how do we guarantee that in six months' time,
someone doesn't come right back and make it mandatory again? So I have a
hard time with, you know, guaranteeing that and saying, `This is acceptable.'
And lastly, I mean, the strongly encouraged language in no way addresses how
demeaning and humiliating wearing this thing is. So I'm very concerned
about that language.
GROSS: John Whitehead, as the lawyer in this suit, how do you interpret the
strongly encouraged? Do you see that as a victory?
Mr. WHITEHEAD: Well, I don't see it as a victory. I think it's a move in
the right direction. I think that keeping equivocal language in any kind of
order, as the colonel says, is--you can create all kinds of problems of
GROSS: John Whitehead, what happens to the lawsuit now? One of the three
things that you're challenging has been amended.
Mr. WHITEHEAD: It has been amended. And how it affects the lawsuit, that's
going to be, you know, for the judge to decide. We will know the
government's answer some times in March--how they're going to respond to it. You know, something could happen in between then, maybe favorably so; we don't know. But the lawsuit moves forward. I think that by moving as much as they have, by saying that it's no longer mandatory really reduces the fact that they have a compelling state interest to violate any of her First Amendment rights. So I think that it has affected the lawsuit. And hopefully we can drive this thing home and win it.
GROSS: Now the Defense Department says that its easing of the ruling about
military women having to wear the abaya in Saudi Arabia is not a direct
response to your suit; that they made that ruling independent of your suit.
Do you buy that?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, the timing does seem interesting, but to be honest
with you, I don't really care what brings about the change or what the
driving factors are. I mean, I just want the policies to be changed. So whatever
reasons are attached to it is really not a factor to me.
GROSS: My guests are Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally, who is suing the
Defense Department, and her lawyer John Whitehead of the Rutherford
Institute. Colonel McSally will be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally.
You were based in Saudi Arabia from November of 2000 to December of 2001.
You're now based in Tucson, Arizona. Can you talk a little bit about the
difference of being based in a place where you can dress like yourself when
you leave the base, you can leave the base, you can drive, you can leave
unescorted by a male?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Yeah. Well, I love America. And that's why I chose to
raise my right hand to defend it. And it's great to be back in America.
And I can't tell you how strongly I feel that way after this last 13-month tour
over in Saudi Arabia and all that was going on. My new assignment seems to
be a breath of fresh air as far as the environment that I'm working in and the
support that I'm receiving, the welcoming that I'm receiving. I've only
been there a few days, but it's been a breath of fresh air for me. That combined
with the fact that I'm in America, I drive my own car and I'm consistently,
you know, treated based on my performance and my rank.
GROSS: Let me back up a little earlier in your career. You are among the
first seven women trained as a fighter pilot in the American military. What
year was this that you were trained?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, the Department of Defense changed its policy that
restricted women from flying combat aircraft in 1993. This was following
Congress repealing the law that restricted women from flying combat aircraft
right after Desert Storm. So I thought the policy was going to change when
Congress repealed the law, and picked an assignment as an instructor pilot
to keep the dream alive and buy myself some time for hope the DOD would change its policy. So in 1993 I was told that the policy was changed, and seven of
us had earned fighters at a pilot training, but were not allowed to fly them
because of the policy. They went back and said, you know, `You earned it.
You're going to get it.' So in 1994, I went off to train in the A-10 Warthog.
GROSS: Why did you want to be a fighter pilot?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, a lot of the reason was because they told me that I
couldn't, to be honest with you. I mean, I was at the Air Force Academy as
a cadet, you know, eating dirt, crawling through the mud, going side-by-side
through the tremendous strenuous environment academically and militarily.
And you know, we'd all graduate and meet the same criteria, and go off to pilot
training. Again, women would graduate high in their class and the men below
them in the order of merit would go off to fly fighters. For years, we had
women very qualified to fly fighters and they were just not able to because
of the policy. So, you know, part of what motivated me was the fact that we
couldn't. And I just went, `Well, we're gonna some day, and I'm gonna be
one of them.' But, you know, being in the Air Force obviously flying a fighter
or a bomber is--you're at the pointy end of the spear, like we say. I mean,
you are, you know, out there literally putting your life on the line for the
mission and it's a very challenging and very rewarding profession.
GROSS: Are there any things that you found weren't adapted to women in the
military or particularly in the program for fighter pilots?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: No. Our transition, though, was, you know, one where
There were some people who weren't real happy about women showing up in the squadron, so, I mean, we really all just had to kind of hunker down and show
our competence and our capability as pilots. I mean, you put your helmet on
and nobody can tell whether you're a man or a woman. The bottom line is how
do you fly the jet. And so, you know, there was a time there where you just
had to go, `OK, well, I'm not, you know, listening to some of the outside,
you know, voices here. I'm just pressing on and proving through my competence that I belong to be a mission-ready combat pilot in the squadron.' And for me I was very quickly accepted based on that.
We deployed over to Kuwait almost immediately after I became mission-ready,
and so now I'm over with my unit and we're in a tight environment and
we're--you know, we're doing a real mission. And every day you could be a
POW. So no one's going to have you fly on their wing if you're not capable,
you know, ready to help protect each other and do the mission.
GROSS: You were the first woman to fly a combat sortie in a fighter jet.
Would you briefly describe that mission for us?
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Well, again, I'd just--brand-new in the A-10. I had just
gotten checked out and said I was mission-ready. We deployed immediately
over to Kuwait to enforce the no-fly zone over Iraq. So I'd only been flying the
A-10 for about five months. And, you know, all of a sudden I'm taking off
to go fly into Iraq, you know, to help deter them from coming south and from
having any aggression against their own people. And at any given moment,
you know, you could lose your engines or be shot down. And even though it's a
strange kind of war we have going on there, you know, you could easily be a
POW. So when you cross that border, I mean, it's real. I mean, I remember
looking down and crossing that border from Kuwait into Iraq and saying,
`Well, I hope I was paying attention in class, 'cause, you know, this matters now.'
And the reality is you do what you train for. I mean, I had some hairy
missions where I was, you know, locked up by Iraqi radars and things, but
you just do what you're trained for and, you know, you look out for each other
and you come back safely, God willing.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Lt. Col. McSALLY: Thank you.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Commander Ernest Duplessis discusses the easing of the
Defense Department regulation requiring military women in Saudi
Arabia to wear full body veils
TERRY GROSS, host:
Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally is suing the Defense Department over
regulations that require American military women in Saudi Arabia when they
leave the base to conform to several Saudi restrictions on women's dress and
behavior. One of those restrictions was eased this month. Military women
are no longer required to wear the full body veil, the abaya, when they leave
the base. But according to General Tommy Franks' new order, women are, quote, "strongly encouraged" to wear it.
We called the Defense Department for a response, and they referred us to US
Central Command, which referred us to Commander Ernest Duplessis. He
declined to comment on the lawsuit, and kept his remarks to this month's policy
Change on the abaya. I asked him about the wording, which says women are strongly encouraged to wear the abaya. What does strongly encouraged mean?
Commander ERNEST DUPLESSIS (US Navy): It means just that. It means that
one of the reasons why the abaya is strongly encouraged is for force protection
concerns. When we can help our military personnel to have a lower profile
and blend in with the local community, that lessens their profile and, hence, we
believe, does not make them as big a target. And so for force protection
concerns, primarily that's one of the reasons why the abayas is strongly
encouraged to be born.
GROSS: But a woman off base has to be escorted by a male. Now the military
male is allowed to wear jeans as long as they're, you know, in good shape
and there aren't holes in them. So if you have an American military man wearing jeans and a shirt escorting a woman in a full body veil, is that helping her fit in at all? She's clearly with an American military man.
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: The other side of the concerns with the abaya wear go to
the local customs, as well as the host nation sensitivities. And so that is
something that plays into the equation as well. And that is the standard
wear for women in that area of the world.
GROSS: Now why was the original directive saying that military women had to
wear the abaya off base--why was that scaled down to that it was strongly
encouraged that they wear it?
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: Well, General Tommy Franks, who's the commander in chief
of the US Central Command, recently directed that the local commanders revise
this existing policy, as you know, to reflect the wear of the abaya as not
being mandatory but strongly encouraged and that would remove any
requirements to wear that particular garment there. But we still have our force
protection concerns. And so we want to make those known to our service members and then provide them with that ability to balance those and make those decisions that they have to make.
GROSS: How does the military respond to Colonel McSally's concern that if
she or any other female member of the American military has to wear the body
veil and practice other Islamic customs that they are functionally being
subservient to people who they are actually superior to in the line of
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: Well, as you know...
GROSS: That it undermines their authority?
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: Lieutenant Colonel McSally presently has litigation
pending with the Department of Defense, and so it is our policy that while there is pending litigation really not to comment on any of the issues involved in
GROSS: Is there anything else that you feel you can say about the issue or
about the lawsuit?
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: No. The lawsuit is with the Department of Defense.
That's certainly out of our purview, and I think that we've clearly stated what the
revision to the policy is and what that means. And we believe that it's in,
certainly, all the best interests that the policy is suitable for the host
nation as well as for our service members.
GROSS: How do you deal with the paradox that faced Colonel McSally when she was in Saudi Arabia? On the one hand, she was a fighter pilot. She could
fly missions. And on the other hand, she couldn't drive a car and had to wear a
full body veil when leaving the base.
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: Once again, this is all part of the pending litigation
that is going on at the Department of Defense level, and so I'm really not at
liberty to discuss any of those issues.
GROSS: Was the toning down of the regulation about the full body veil, the
abaya, a direct result of Colonel McSally's suit?
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: No.
GROSS: It was independent of that. What inspired it then?
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: Once again, our regulations are periodically reviewed.
This is one of those regulations that was under review. It's strongly
encouraged due to force protection concerns. And the commanders there will
implement the measures to mitigate those concerns.
GROSS: Well, thank you very much for talking with us, Commander.
Cmdr. DUPLESSIS: You're more than welcome.
GROSS: Commander Ernest Duplessis of the US Central Command in Tampa,
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a CD that's a hit in England and is about to
released here. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: New album by the Super Furry Animals called "Rings Around
TERRY GROSS, host:
Super Furry Animals are a Welsh quintet who are major stars in Britain and a
solid cult act in America. Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews their new album
called "Rings Around the World." It's a hit in Britain and will be released
here in March.
(Soundbite from "Rings Around the World")
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS: (Singing) You expose the ...(unintelligible) in me.
You're drawing rings around the world. Sooner or later we will melt
and a rings around the world ...(unintelligible).
KEN TUCKER reporting:
If Super Furry Animals didn't exactly travel rings around the world in
recording their new CD, they did do some journeying. The quintet began
recording in their native Wales, but also did much of the work you hear on
this album at studios in Woodstock, New York, a legendary music site since
Dylan and The Band cut songs there three decades ago. Why bring this up?
Because there's an obsession with things American in Super Furry Animals'
music and their thoughts.
In their jangly guitars you can hear echoes of The Byrds. In their massed
harmonies, The Beach Boys. And they've gone on record in the press as
that the deceptively pretty tune "No Sympathy," with its refrain, `No
sympathy, you deserve to die,' was inspired by a pre-September 11th contempt
for George Bush's attitude toward the death penalty in his home state of
(Soundbite from "No Sympathy")
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS: (Singing) I have no sympathy for you. You make me
realize who I am. I have no sympathy for thee. You make me realize who I
TUCKER: Another song which became a hit single in Europe, called
With U," features a creamy melody that wouldn't be out of place in the
discography of Burt Bacharach even as Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys sings in
the refrain that, quote, "You've got to tolerate all the people that you
hate," which you begin to suspect might form a rather long list for these
(Soundbite from "Juxtapozed With U")
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS: (Singing) It's easy when you know how to get along
without biff, bang, pow. And if I see you're fed up I'll stop and give you
leg up. Overpriced unreal estate, surreal estate, the highest price they've
hit to date creating new divides and tension. You've got to tolerate all
those people that you hate. I'm not in love with you, but I won't hold that
against you. You've got to tolerate...
TUCKER: "Rings Around the World" has its share of guest stars. John Cale
from The Velvet Underground plays piano on "Presidential Suite," which I've
read is supposed to be about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, but whose lyrics
is, to my ears, so oblique as to be opaque. Similarly hidden away is Paul
McCartney, who is said to chew carrots and celery to the rhythm of a catchy
bit of bitterness called "Receptacle of the Respectable." Listen closely.
(Soundbite from "Receptacle of the Respectable")
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS: (Singing) Tell me, tell me, explain your game, 'cause
it's very inane. Are you pleased to see me suffer ever? Welcome as a storm
cloud in the late December gloom. Subtle as a nail bomb in the head. You
came to me in peace and left me in pieces.
TUCKER: At a time when the American airwaves are full of jolting hip-hop,
glossy teen pop and squawking hard rock, I don't imagine America is waiting
hear Super Furry Animals' pretty indictments of hypocrisy. I don't think
mentioned that there's a lovely country rock tune knocking violent
fundamentalist extremists called "Run, Christian, Run." But just as most of
us wouldn't understand what Super Furry Animals was saying were they to sing
their native Welsh, so I prefer to ignore their often foolish, sententious
lyrics and enjoy the music they're so obviously super furry talented at
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Rings Around the World" from the Welsh group Super Furry Animals. It will
released in the States in March.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite from "Receptacle of the Respectable")
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS: (Singing) It took a long time for me to get over your
incredible ways. And now I'm minded to wipe out the memory of the way you
behaved. Yeah, there is something good for me to discover. Something
respectable. It took some time to get over. I took some time out to study
your actions of how you painted towns red. And if my worst fears came to
fruition, I'm sure you'd leave us all dead. I was so gullible--for me to
discover--but now I'm cynical. It took some time to get over. Bah, bah,
bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah. Bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah. Bah, bah, bah,
bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah. Bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah. We're all
susceptible--for me to discover--to the incredible. It took some time to
over. Tell me, tell me, tell me again, 'cause it's very inane. Are you
pleased to see me suffer ever? Tell me, tell me, explain your game, 'cause
it's very inane. Are you pleased to see me suffer ever? Tell me, tell me,
tell me again...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.