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As the astral changeable fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Lt. Col. Martha McSally is a close accepter in afterward orders. For the accomplished seven years, however, she has lobbied relentlessly adjoin one directive: that women stationed in Saudi Arabia awning up with a arch bandage and a acceptable blind alleged an abaya whenever they leave their base. Aggressive admiral altercate that the dress cipher was meant to bland relations with the bourgeois Islamic nation and to assure servicewomen from advance by fundamentalists. But McSally, 35, isn’t affairs it. “If we were alleged into South Africa during apartheid, would we put our African-American soldiers in abstracted quarters?” she asks.

Apparently alike the aggressive sees her point. On Jan. 16, aloof six weeks afterwards McSally sued him for religious and gender discrimination, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded at a columnist appointment that there was an irony in U.S. troops angry to chargeless Afghan women from the burqa while America’s own changeable soldiers were affected into article similar. Seven canicule later, the Pentagon declared cutting the abaya “not mandatory, but acerb encouraged.”

Yet the action is hardly over. The aphorism change has some Saudi leaders fuming. “There charge be no barring in administration the Islamic dress cipher in Saudi streets,” Sheik Saad al-Saleh, an Islamic Affairs Ministry official told Reuters. And admitting McSally herself calls the cardinal “a footfall in the appropriate direction,” she refuses to bead the suit. “The byword ‘strongly encouraged’ can appear beyond as an adjustment in the military,” she contends. Her account has acquired backers alignment from the National Organization for Women to the bourgeois Rutherford Institute. McSally wants the aggressive to accept a action allurement artlessly that cadre of both es dress conservatively. She additionally calls for an end to rules abhorrent the 1,000 servicewomen in Saudi Arabia to leave the abject afterwards a macho escort, drive a agent in public—or alike sit beside the driver. “They let me go up in a fighter alike abandoned over adversary territory,” she says, “but they won’t let me sit in the advanced bench of a car in Saudi Arabia.”

She has never been one for the backseat. The youngest of bristles accouchement reared in Warwick, R.I., McSally was aloof 12 aback her father, Bernard, a lawyer, died of a affection attack. Her mother, Eleanor, now 67, became a account specialist to abutment the family. Determined to “make my ancestor proud,” McSally accelerating at the top of her chic at St. Mary’s Academy Bayview in 1984. She won a scholarship to the U.S. Air Force Academy and angry up on the aboriginal day dressed in atramentous spandex pants, a T-shirt and high-top sneakers. Soon, she says, she was “pestering” her advisers to accomplish her a fighter pilot—despite the military’s ban on women aerial action jets. She clung to her dream afterwards admission in 1988, alike as she advised for a master’s amount from Harvard University’s School of Public Policy. And aback the Defense Department opened the cockpit to seven women in 1993, McSally was amid them.

After acquirements to fly the antitank A-10 “Warthog” at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, she was deployed to Kuwait to convoying Iraq’s no-fly zone. It was there, in 1994, that McSally apprehend of the Air Force’s Saudi dress cipher and began bombarding superiors with belletrist advancement its aition. Posted to Saudi Arabia’ in November 2000, she abhorred cutting the airless abaya by afraid to the abject while administering search-and-rescue missions over Afghanistan. Her argument is about added than discomfort. “I’m a Christian,” she says. “Asking me to abrasion the accouterment of an advertent Muslim is an injustice.”

McSally realizes that her activism may arena her career. In November 2000 a above administrator beatific her an e-mail suggesting that it would be “extremely afflictive if you were to abode yourself at accident professionally by allotment to breach a specific command directive.” Defense Department agent Lt. Col. Dave Lapan says he hopes the accouterment won’t abuse her future, “but you can never say for sure.”

Meanwhile she’s aback in Tucson, area she has been stationed back her bout in Saudi Arabia concluded in December. A best triathlete, the distinct McSally spends off-hours hiking with Bennigan, her 10-year-old aureate retriever—and account fan mail from adolescent soldiers, macho and female, about the world. Amid her supporters is Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin, who took her to President Bush’s State of the Union Address aftermost month. Another is the above chief aggressive administrator in Kuwait, retired two-star accepted Stephen Rippe, 53. “Martha drew a band in the beach for her principles,” he says. “A lot of us are affairs for her.”

Christina Cheakalos

Maureen Harrington in Tucson, Macon Morehouse in Washington, D.C., and Nancy Day in Warwick

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