On Veteran’s Day, we salute, thank and celebrate those who have served in the military and their willingness to sacrifice for the common good. We especially take our hats off to women in the military, including the many South Asian women who have served on behalf of their countries.
As we pay our respects to all veterans in the United States on November 11, we hail the enormous contributions of those who are South Asians, a US military service lineage with deep roots. Their stories and contributions have been largely invisible unless thrust on to the national stage, as happened when Khizr Khan spoke emotionally during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign about his son U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan who died in 2004 in the line of duty.
So today, we take our hats off to the many South Asians in active military duty. This includes some extraordinary female U.S. veterans like Anu Bhagwat, Sunita Williams and Balreet Kaur Khaira. As a Marine Officer from 1999 to 2004 (see our story), Captain Bhagwat was the second woman to complete the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor trainer school, earning a black belt in close combat techniques. After her active duty, Bhagwat founded Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), which has spearheaded legislative reform to eliminate sexual discrimination and violence in the military. Today, she uses her voice to speak out and advocate for women’s rights and gender parity.
Captain Williams was first Indian-American female graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the first Indian-American military officer to be selected as an astronaut. During her 15-year tenure in NASA’s astronaut corps, she set records for women in space on her two expeditions to the International Space Station, which included 195 days in space and 29 hours outside the spacedraft. An Ohio native, Williams trained as a combat helicopter and served during the Persian Gulf War and on relief missions post Hurricane Andrew. She later became a Navy test pilot and instructor, logging more than 2,770 flight hours in 30 different types of aircraft. Williams was the second American astronaut of Indian heritage to go into space, after Kalpana Chawla, who died in the Columbia accident.
Staff Sgt. Khaira is another example. As a member of the U.S. Army National Guard, her knowledge and fluency in Hindi and Urdu makes her a critical link and an interpreter between U.S. and Indian military forces especially in conflict zones in Iraq and Afghanistan or in India in joint military exercises. Her sister, Sgt. Jasleen Khaira, also works in the Guard, and both have been dubbed as ‘cultural diplomats.’
As we salute all veterans for their courage and sacrifice, we especially want to pay respect to the women in the military serving their countries. Their visibility is paving the way for more equity and parity for women. Thank you!