MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- Captain Niloofar Rahmani was just 18 when she became the first female fixed-wing pilot in Afghanistan with the Afghan Air Force. From the beginning colleagues, extended family members and even some members of the Taliban disapproved of her choice, but she still continued to pursue her dream.
Rahmani, now an International Women of Courage Award recipient visited Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., to speak to women pilots and leaders and see the aircraft of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, March 9.
Rahmani received the award for her courage to become a military pilot and face day-to-day threats and challenges from people who disapproved of her career and ambition.
“It makes you become very appreciative for what we have,” said 1st Lt. Alisa Sieber, a pilot with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 and a San Diego native. “She has been through a lot and it’s really inspiring to hear her story.”
In honor of International Women’s Day, the Department of State will host ten women of courage on a special initiative to recognize women who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.
Rahmani explained after hearing about opportunities for young women to join the Afghan Air Force through the media, she knew she had to jump on the opportunity.
“I wanted to complete my father’s dream to become a pilot,” said Rahmani. “Since he was a child, he never got the opportunity.”
Throughout her training and career, she has been thought less of by her male counterparts and many people throughout her culture began threatening her safety and the safety of her family.
“[My family] still get threats, but they are still supporting me,” she said. “People are upset because they think I’m changing the culture, but I am not, I’m just fighting for the rights of women. We need females to be in each part of society. They aren’t just threatening me to stop doing my job; they are threatening my family and our lives.”
Despite the threats and hardships, she plans to continue pursuing her career as a pilot and hopes to one day become an instructor.
“I started this job and I was sure these kinds of problems would happen,” Rahmani said. “I was expecting this and my family was expecting this, but now it is actually happening and it’s something I cannot just think of as a joke; but on the other hand, I don’t want to give up because this will prove to them that I am not a strong person.”
Rahmani also strives to encourage women around the world to chase their dreams and fight for their rights.
“I would just want to encourage of all the females around the world, especially in my country where the females have no rights, to just believe in themselves and to have more self-confidence,” she said. “Even if there are people who say ‘you can’t because you are just a female’ they should always just believe in themselves as a person. If they have self-confidence, they will be able to do whatever they want.”