Afghanistan’s First Female Air Force Pilot Calls San Diego Visit ‘Awesome’

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Afghanistan’s First Female Air Force Pilot Calls San Diego Visit ‘Awesome’

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Afghanistan’s First Female Air Force Pilot Calls San Diego Visit ‘Awesome’

Afghanistan's first female Air Force pilot of a fixed-wing aircraft is on a fast-paced visit to the United States this week. She’s met first lady Michelle Obama and received an International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office.

But Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, 23, said getting to visit San Diego has been the “most awesome” part of the trip. And not just because of the weather.

On Monday, Rahmani went to San Diego’s Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and got to talk to other female pilots. It left a lasting impression on the pilot who’s been flying for the Afghan Air Force since July 2012.

“In the country where I have been, women are treated a different way, like someone very weak, not able to do anything, just being in a house, doing housework,” Rahmani said in an interview Tuesday. “But I have been here and visited many wonderful women here and have seen there are many, many strong women here and all over the world.”

Meeting other women pilots in San Diego has encouraged her and given her confidence, she said, not just for herself but for the women in her home country.

Rahmani is in the United States on a five-day trip arranged by the San Diego Diplomacy Council.

She decided to become a pilot at age 18 because her father had wanted to fly but wasn’t able to complete his training.

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Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, Afghanistan's first female Air Force pilot of a fixed-wing aircraft, visits the offices of the San Diego Diplomacy Council on March 10, 2015.

“In my country, there are no rights for the females, no rights for the females being in the military, no rights for being a pilot,” she said. “I wanted to be the first, I wanted to go and accept this risk and be a pilot and be an example for other women behind me.”

She saw that the Afghan Air Force was recruiting young women for pilot training and signed up. After two years in flight school, she now flies the C-208, a small, single-engine cargo aircraft based on a Cessna Caravan.

Her decision to fly has been a challenge for her and her family, Rahmani said.

“In my country, being a female in the military, it’s not acceptable for my people,” she said. “They think it’s a kind of shame for the families.”

She said some have blamed her father because she chose to be a pilot, even threatening her family. But with her family’s support, she pressed on.

“I expected that this is going to happen,” she said. “If I give up, it means I’m never strong, we never fight for what we want. Because being strong is to go to the end, not to stop in the middle.”

Rahmani wants to work as an instructor pilot to change minds in her country and show young girls and boys what’s possible.

“The first day that they get in the cockpit, they should fly with a female,” she said. “They will change their minds. One day it’s not going to be in their minds that, ‘She’s a female. I can’t fly with her. She is weak or she will crash the aircraft.’”

Rahmani said she hoped that by receiving the International Women of Courage Award it would inspire other Afghan women to go after their dreams.

“When they watch me receive this honor for what I did, this is not only for me, this is something to encourage all the women,” she said. “It can make a person very strong, very powerful to just believe in themselves. I am the same human that the men are. We have to change this, we have to fight for this. If I don’t fight for my rights, if I don’t do this, who’s going to do it? If I don’t do it now, when are we going to do it?”

On Wednesday, Rahmani will have another experience that she expects will seal the awesomeness of her visit. She’s going on a back-seat ride with the Navy's Blue Angels.

She said she expects it will be “the best memory of my life.”

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