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First Muslim Chaplain In U.S. Armed Forces Recalls His Decades-Long Career Of Supporting Soldiers

Lieutenant Colonel Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad joined the United States Army in 1982. Before enlisting, he was a civilian imam in San Diego, CA, and he joined because was attracted to the discipline and values of the military culture there.

In the early 90s, Lt. Col. Muhammad became the first Muslim chaplain in the Armed Forces. In his duties, he consoled the families of fallen soldiers, and offered mental and emotional support to service members dealing with grief.

He came to StoryCorps with his wife, Saleemah Muhammad, to talk about what that was like.

Top Photo: Lieutenant Colonel Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad and his wife, Saleemah Muhammad. Photo courtesy of the participants.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired November 6, 2021 on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

The First And Second In Flight — Two Black Women Make Coast Guard History

The U.S. Coast Guard currently has more than 800 pilots. They perform crucial search and rescue missions, often in adverse weather situations.

For 215 years, not a single one of them was a Black woman. 

That was, until Jeanine Menze joined in 2005, becoming the first.

Cmdr. Jeanine Menze, stationed at Air Station Barbers Point, Oahu, Hawaii in 2006. USCG photo by PA2 Jennifer Johnson.

Two years later, she met La’Shanda Holmes and introduced her to the world of flight. La’Shanda would then go on to earn her own wings, becoming the second.

Lashanda Holmes at Air Station Los Angeles. U.S, in 2010. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers.

Lieutenant Commander La’Shanda Holmes and Commander Jeanine Menze came to StoryCorps to remember that time, and reflect on the impact they’ve made in each other’s lives.

By 2014 there were five Black women pilots in the Coast Guard, nicknamed “The Fab Five”. Since then, that number has gone up, adding a sixth…with more waiting in the wings…

From left to right are Cmdr. Jeanine Menze, MH-65 helicopter pilot Lt. Cmdr. LaShanda Holmes, HC-144 fixed wing pilot Lt. Angel Hughes, MH-60 helicopter pilot Lt. Chanel Lee, HC-144 fixed wing pilot Lt. Ronaqua Russell. 2019. Photo by Lt.Cmdr. Ryan P Kelley.

Originally aired October 2, 2021 on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Top Photo: From left to right, Jeanine Menze and La’Shanda Holmes, at La’Shanda’s flight school graduation at NAS Whiting Field, Milton, FL, in 2010. Courtesy of La’Shanda Holmes.

‘My Way of Serving’: An Airline Worker Finds His Calling Honoring The Military’s Fallen

Brian McConnell has been an airline worker for nearly four decades. Much of that time was spent working “the ramp” at the Atlanta airport — the area where aircrafts are refueled, boarded and loaded. But in 2005, after witnessing the work of the Delta Honor Guard — a group of volunteers who handle extremely personal cargo — he found a new calling.

At StoryCorps, Brian told his wife, Nora, about the moment everything changed, and how he’s found a sense of purpose by honoring the military’s fallen.

This story was recorded in partnership with Delta Air Lines.

Top Photo: Nora and Brian McConnell at their StoryCorps interview in Atlanta, Georgia on April 14, 2016. By Morgan Feigal-Stickles for StoryCorps.

Originally aired October 17, 2020, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.