ARLINGTON, Va. – In a room full of family, friends and mentors, history was made with the affirmation “So help me God.”
Chaplain candidate Saleha Jabeen was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Chicago at the Catholic Theological Union by the Air Force chief of chaplains, Dec. 18, becoming the first female Muslim chaplain in the Department of the Defense.
“I first came to the United States 14 years ago as an international student,” Jabeen said. “I thought I would study and make an impact in the corporate world.”
However, when she learned of the trials faced by service members through her brother’s deployments and service in the Army, the impact she had set to make wouldn’t be in the corporate world.
Jabeen followed her brother into the Army where more lessons about her goals and dreams came to light. While in the Army Medical Corps, Jabeen received opportunities to work alongside chaplains and help out her fellow Soldiers.
“My brother has been the source of my inspiration,” Jabeen said. “It was because of his dedication and getting to see his military career that I recognized the importance of the chaplaincy in the armed forces. I saw that when one member gets deployed, all of their family members join them.”
During her time in the Army, Jabeen met Army 1st Lt. Jamal Bey, from the 451st Civil Affairs Battalion. They became good friends and mentored each other. When Jabeen told Bey about her dream of becomimg a Muslim chaplain, Bey at the time didn’t have a reference point but he supported Jabeen in blazing a trail for being the first.
“The commissioning of Saleha is great because as a father you want to be able to tell your children that they can be anything,” Bey said at Jabeen’s commissioning ceremony. “I now have Jabeen to point to as an example of a woman that broke this barrier.”
Air Force chaplains are religious ministry professionals who support the spiritual needs of Airmen around the world. The Department of Defense has service members of many faiths and those of no faith, but the DoD didn’t have a female Imam, a spiritual leader in Islam.
“Any time we advance religious freedoms, it’s a win for all persons of faith,” said Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, Air Force chief of chaplains. “The fact is America is a place where the Constitution guarantees your freedom to embrace or abstain from religious ideals, and the Chaplain Corps, which Jabeen just entered, exists to ensure every Airman has a religious freedom advocate. This is a big day not just for Muslims, but for persons of all faiths. I could not be more proud of our Air Force for being willing to commission and embrace the first female Imam in the Department of Defense.”
Jabeen was endorsed by the Islamic Society of North America to become the first female Muslim chaplain in the Department of Defense. But, Jabeen’s journey in the Air Force chaplaincy has just begun. She is scheduled to complete training and will then be assigned to a duty station where she will support Airmen. Along the way, she hopes to continue inspiring people and breaking barriers.
“When other people look at what I have done, I want them to know that God has a plan for you and to go out there and be the best version of yourself and accomplish the mission you were specifically designed to complete. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you and when they try — be kind, be generous, be resilient and don’t quit.”