Our Best – Staff Sgt. Muna Nur
Story by Sgt. Ken Scar
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Muna Nur is striking for many reasons. Born in Somalia, she has the warm complexion and elegant features of women, like the famous model Iman, who are native to that region. Her feisty attitude belies her ethereal appearance, however, and is more a testament to her six-year military career that includes two tough deployments to Iraq and a third, current one to Afghanistan, where she is the non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the Troop Medical Clinic, 10th Sustainment Brigade, Task Force Muleskinner.
“I was born in Somalia, so I’m a child of war, I guess,” she said. “When I was two months old, because of the war, my mom moved us to Kenya until I was five, and then to America – where we finally settled in Minnesota. I consider myself an American even though I wasn’t born there.”
On a typical shift in the walk-in clinic on Bagram Air Field that she manages when she’s not on missions outside the wire, she can be seen ribbing her medics good-naturally like a stern mother while brandishing her “Soldier Adjustment Tool”, an organic club fashioned from a tree limb with a ball-like gourd on one end, sharpened to a point on the other, and decorated all over with African-style etchings.
She gestures dramatically and threatens to use it to get her soldiers in line, but it says something about her leadership that it was, in fact, her soldiers that gifted it to her.
“I run a tight ship,” she says, furrowing her brow toward everyone in the waiting area to light-hearted laughter.
Nur has worked her way to a position that suits her well, but things have not always run so smoothly for her.
Another of her striking aspects is the fact that she is a proud Muslim, a trait that has created difficulties for her in the past – especially after 9/11.
“9/11 created such an awkward position for my family,” she said. “My mom is not totally religious, but she wears the scarves over her head, and she is very fair-skinned so she looks Arab. I just remember all the comments … ” she trails off, hesitant to get too specific and dredge up old wounds.
“I said to myself, do I want people to think my family is full of terrorists? Do I want people to view my religion like we’re all terrorists? I wanted to fight back, so that’s one of the main reasons I joined [the Army].”
The decision to become a medic was a simpler one: “I wanted to help people.”
Being female and a Muslim could have been a double-whammy joining the Army, whose population is historically comprised mostly of men and soldiers that believe in some form of Christianity – but surprisingly, the discrimination she experienced in the civilian world was much worse than what she’s experienced as a soldier.
She credits the Army’s emphasis on cultural training for that.
“I think the majority of soldiers are trained to differentiate between terrorists and what Islam is,” she said.
That’s not to say she has never heard inconsiderate comments, but as a medic who is often the only female out on a mission, she knows how to brush off the harsh words and posturing of some her less sensitive colleagues.
“My first tour of Iraq was very difficult for me,” she said. “Treating soldiers who just got hit, I heard the backlash, but now I don’t take it as an attack against Muslims in general or me, I take is as an attack against terrorists.”
Dealing with traditional Afghan prejudices is another thing she has learned to deal with gracefully.
“Most Afghanis are illiterate,” she explained. “They don’t read the Quran, it’s taught to them. So for me, as a Muslim woman who reads the Quran and has my own interpretation – it can be a battle.”
“You have to have a thick skin,” she added, smiling. “You have to know what right looks like, and be tolerant. You can’t go around telling people their religion is wrong or they believe in false prophets. How would you feel if I condemned you to hell because you’re not a Muslim? I don’t believe in that.”
“More than anything, she educates us,” explained Air Force Senior Airman Natasha Whitten, one of Nur’s medics. “Like when the Qurans were burned [in February], she let us know why people were so upset and what the proper way to do it would have been.”
As far as being a female in a war zone, Nur marvels at the fact there is any debate at all that she or any of her female comrades belong in combat.
Every medic in her unit rotates from working in the clinic to rolling with combat logistical patrols that travel to smaller combat outposts and bases all over Regional Command-East on the most dangerous roadways in theater. Out of the 42 medics she is responsible for, 10 of them are female.
“If we took all our females off the road, the missions wouldn’t happen,” she stated matter-of-factually.
She personally does an average of three missions per month, so she will rack up nearly 50 missions outside the wire on this deployment.
“She is dedicated to what she does,” said Sgt. Maj. Janice Glaze, the Operations sergeant major for Task Force Muleskinner. “She really has concern for soldiers, and I would speak to her courage. As a medic, she treats the soldiers that encounter improvised explosive devices. She sees the wounds, so she knows what can happen when you go outside that wire – and yet she is never hesitant to go on those missions.”
“Once you’re outside the wire, anything can happen,” said Nur. “I want the world to know that my medics go out there and have to be combat soldiers, whether they’re male or female.”
“When you go out [on the convoys] there’s no separation. We all sleep in the same tents, or the same trucks,” she said, adding with a laugh, “Once you can pee outside or in the truck with the guys, the awkwardness leaves.”
“We are already in combat,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Anahi Pelayo, also one of Nur’s medics, referring to the debate over whether women should be in combat positions. “We [female medics] are not necessarily behind the weapons, but we take care of everyone else that is.”
“I love the action, and I love being out. But I always say that I like to stay unemployed on missions,” said Nur.
“I’m confident that, when it comes down to it, she’ll do her job. She’s a strong individual, and I know she can handle her own,” said Pelayo, being sure to add that the fact Nur was standing over her with the Soldier Adjustment Tool had nothing to do with that statement.
Read more: http://www.dvidshub.net/news/89044/female-muslim-medic-spends-career-mending-preconceptions#.T8LdSbBYuVo#ixzz1w7wWYgkd
Table of contents for America's African Heroes
- An American Soldier Returns Home
- Sierra Leone native joins Air Force
- Gambian Leads By Example
- From Sudan to Iraq
- Nigerian Native Is Patriotic American
- Proud to Be an American
- Sudanese Refugee Is US Army Soldier
- Our Best: Sgt. 1st Class Dedraf Blash
- Immigrants From Opposite Sides of War-torn Country Become Citizens Together
- Our Best: Staff Sgt. Happiness Aghedo
- Back to Africa – the Land of Opportunity
- Our Best – Staff Sgt. Muna Nur
- From African refugee to US soldier
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