The first female fighter pilot for the United Arab Emirates led the mission when that country joined the United States and other allies in airstrikes against ISIS over Syria earlier this week.
Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri graduated flight school in 2007 and was one of the first three to join the Emirati air force when it admitted women. She flew an F-16 Desert Falcon on Monday night.
“She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot, and she led the mission,” Yousef Al Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador to the United States, said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“Actually, funny story is, the U.S. tanker pilots called in for air refueling and asked for the UAE mission, and when they heard a female voice on the other side, they actually paused for about 20 seconds, radio silence,” he said.
Mansouri, 35, was born in Abu Dhabi and graduated college with a degree in English literature. She told the magazine Deraa Al Watan earlier this year that her love of country and a passion for challenge and competition drew her to aviation.
But she said that she never focused on competing with male pilots: “Competing with oneself,” she told the magazine, “is conducive to continued learning.”
Mansouri served in the Army before enrolling in flight training. She told The National, an English-language Emirati news outlet, in 2008: “A woman’s passion about something will lead her to achieving what she aspires, and that’s why she should pursue her interests.”
“Being in the air force is a responsibility,” she said. “I feel proud, especially that I am part of the first batch. And that encourages me to continue in this field.”
Earlier this year, the Emirati government presented Mansouri the Pride of the Emirates medal for excellence in her field.
The Emirates were among five Arab allies that joined the United States in the first round of airstrikes in Syria to beat back ISIS forces. They were the first to confirm their participation.
Otaiba, the ambassador, told MSNBC that it was imperative for moderate Arab and Muslim countries to step up and say: “This is a threat against us.”
He said the fight comes down to: “Do you want a model or a society that allows women to become ministers in government, female fighter pilots, business executives, artists — or do you want a society where, if a woman doesn’t cover up in public, she’s beaten or she’s lashed or she’s raped. I mean this is ultimately what this breaks down to.”
Charlene Gubash and Ayman Mohyeldin of NBC News contributed to this report.