DEARBORN, Mich. — By her own admission, Capt. Maysaa Ouza is not your typical U.S. Air Force officer. The 29-year-old grew up in Dearborn and proudly wears a hijab.
“When I first joined I personally didn’t see any other Muslim women who wore a hijab in uniform," she told 7 Action News.
It was something Maysaa had to fight for, too; a hijab, along with other religious dress in the Air Force, requires approval through a religious accommodation process.
“When I first joined I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to apply for religious accommodation until after I completed officer training school," Ouza said. “I felt like I was being forced to choose between serving my country and practicing the tenants of my faith.”
So back in 2018 Ouza, now a JAG officer or attorney in the Air Force's legal arm, had to find legal guidance of her own.
“I wanted to join because I wanted to protect and defend the freedoms of this country, yet ironically enough it felt like my religious freedom was being stripped away," she said. "So I called my mentor and with her advice we solicited the representation of the ACLU and Hammoud & Dakhlallah Law Group.”
Because of those efforts, the Air Force not only granted Ouza a religious accommodation, but within that same year changed its policy.
“They changed their policy to allow pre-assession of religious accommodation requests," she said; meaning airmen and airwomen can start the process of applying for and getting that accommodation right away.
“Sometimes issues don’t really come to fruition unless someone makes an issue out of it. And I’m that type of person.”
Making an issue out of it, or in this case advocating, is something Ouza does day-in and day-out for other people. She works as a special victims counsel at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
“I represent victims of sexual assault and domestic violence," Ouza told Action News.
We asked her why she originally wanted to join the Air Force. She said it started with her parents and their dream for her future.
“My parents emigrated from Lebanon to Michigan in the early 80s. They came here with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”
Ouza's father's first job in the U.S. was at Ford. Growing up she said her parents taught her to dream big, and fight hard for her values.
It's those lessons Ouza said, that led her to her career in the first place.
“I wanted to represent marginalized groups and I wanted to help empower others to have a voice.”
She uses TikTok as a megaphone in that effort, along with fellow Air Force officers.
Her videos have had millions and millions of views; she often uses comedy and satire to spread messages of love, inclusion, and acceptance.
The Air Force doesn't track the number of religious accommodations it grants, but we reached out to see what the demographics within the Air Force look like currently.
Overall the Air Force is largely male and white. According to its self-reported demographic information, just 21.3% of active duty Air Force personnel are women.
The following percentages reflect active duty Air Force military members' racial identification:
- 71% White
- 15% Black or African American
- 4.3% Asian
- 0.8% American Indian / Native Alaskan
- 1.2% Native Hawaiian / Other Pacific Islander
- 4.6% Identified more than one race
- 3.5% Declined to respond
Additionally, "Hispanic or Latino" which is considered an ethnic not a racial category, is registered separately and in addition to the above categories.
- 15.9% Hispanic or Latino
- 80.0% Not Hispanic or Latino
- 4.1% Declined to respond
"I receive messages on a daily [basis] from Muslims, from Sikhs, from other minorities who want to wear their articles of faith in the uniform," Ouza said.
Since the policy was changed, Ouza said she has seen a few more women in the Air Force sport hijabs.
"You can’t be what you can’t see," she told Action News. "Hopefully they can see themselves in me. When they see someone like me in a position like this, I want them to see themselves."