Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First and only female pilot in Afghanistan

Col. Latifa Nabizada and her 5 year old daughter/co-pilot
It has been a long and turbulent journey for this first and only Aghani female helicopter pilot, Col. Latifa Nabizada. She is not only the first and only military pilot but the first woman in the history of Afghani aviation.

Latifa and her sister, Lailuma, were the first female graduates from the Afghan Air force Academy, in 1980. It was a challenging endeavor but they graduated. Unfortunately, Lailuma later died at child-birth.

When the Taliban seized control in 1996, Latifa was forced to flee to neighboring Pakistan. She returned after the ouster of the Taliban and rejoined the air force. The Afghan air force has no child-care facilities so Latifa has been flying with her daughter since 1988. Malalai, who is 5 years old, rides in the co-pilot seat next to her mother.
Malalai, the 5 year-old co-pilot

Together, mother and daughter have flown more than 300 mission trips in the past few years. Latifa recognizes the risks of having her daughter on board, but she does not have a choice until possibly when she is 6 and starts school.

"Trust me, when I have my daughter with me on the flight, I am really worried from the moment we take off to the moment we land," says Nabizada. "For me, it's my profession to go to dangerous areas. So if anything happens to me, it is expected. But why should something happen to my daughter? I am really worried."

The U.S. military have asked her not to bring the child on missions or at least move her out of the cockpit, but Malalai will not stand it and she throws a tantrum. In any case, Latifa is confident of her skills as a pilot and is extra cautious with her daughter next to her.

Col. Nabizada
Latifa and her devoted partner fly to some of the most remote and dangerous areas of Afghanistan. The missions often involve supplying troops in remote areas or flying to disaster zones to help provide assistance.

Being a woman in the Afghan military is challenging but it has toughened Latifa. She is no longer harassed and cites an Afghan saying that roughly translates as " steel gets harder with the hammering."

It is encouraging to read these sort of stories from a war zone country, instead of just war and death reports.

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