- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Air Force's highest-ranking female fighter pilot sued yesterday to overturn a policy requiring servicewomen to wear Muslim clothing when off base in Saudi Arabia.
Female military personnel in the country must wear black head-to-foot robes called abayas and ride in the back seat when off base. They can only leave base if they are accompanied by a man.
Lt. Col. Martha McSally said the policy is unconstitutional.
It discriminates against women and violates their religious freedom, forcing them to wear clothing and follow customs mandated by a religion other than their own, her lawsuit said.
Lt. Col. McSally said the regulations undermine her authority as an officer and require her to send the false message that she believes women are subservient to men.
Servicewomen are the only federal employees based in Saudi Arabia to have such requirements, the lawsuit said.
Air Force Maj. Jay Steuck, a Defense Department spokesman, said he had not seen the lawsuit, in which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was named defendant.
The department does not comment on pending litigation, he said.
At least five senators have asked Mr. Rumsfeld to change the policy.
The U.S. Central Command has defended it. Following local custom makes servicewomen less likely to face harassment or attack or become the subject of cultural controversy, the command said.
The lieutenant colonel filed suit in federal court in Washington after her complaints to her superiors failed to change the policy.
Lt. Col. McSally, 35, was one of the first seven female Air Force fighter pilots. In the mid-1990s in Kuwait, she became the first woman in U.S. military history to fly a fighter jet in combat.


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