Air Force captains bond over religion, even though they’re different

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In 2018, Captain Maysaa Ouza, a lawyer who wanted to join the air force, was in conflict. As a Muslim American, she wears a hijab, a religious veil that covers her hair. And although religious accommodations are made once you officially join the Air Force, she wasn’t sure if she could keep her hijab on for training.

Captain Joe Hochheiser knows about religious accommodations. He wears a yarmulke, a cap traditionally worn by some Jewish men.

Hochheiser, also a lawyer, had recently joined the Air Force when his boss brought up Ouza. “He’s like, ‘I just met a great candidate.’ And I said, “Okay. Well, tell me about her,'” Hochheiser told CBS News. “He said to me, ‘You can really help her. She really wants to register, but she wears a hijab. You wear a yarmulke. Can you help her accept her religious accommodation?'”

From his own experience, Hochheiser knew that Jewish men had blazed a trail before him and kept their yarmulkes, or yarmulkes, for practice. He thought Ouza would be fine.

“I didn’t realize his process took a little longer,” Hochheiser said.

Ouza wanted prior permission to wear her hijab and didn’t know what she would do without it. “I would basically be forced to choose between representing my faith or serving my country,” she told CBS News. “And I felt conflicted because I identified as a Muslim American and wanted nothing more than to serve my country.”

She not only received religious accommodation for training, she sought to get the Air Force to change policy. And they did – allowing others to now get pre-approved for religious accommodations before joining the training.

“I didn’t think I would go down in history, but change usually starts with one person,” she said. “So I felt like I could create change and I felt like if I joined I could pave the way for others to join me.”

Hochheiser then heard about the policy change on the news and, recognizing her as the young rookie he had heard about, he contacted Ouza on Facebook.

“She and I grew up in close-knit communities and families,” he said. “There might be a natural hesitation between the two communities, but I was brought up in a home to judge people by who they are and what they do – not by their religion, their race or gender. And she had the same mindset.”

“He sent me a photo of himself in uniform, wearing the yarmulke,” Ouza said. “And I felt an immediate connection with him. I asked him so many questions about his faith, his religious accommodation and his time in the military. We have so much in common.”

Eventually, they both ended up at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. And after connecting on social media, they met in person. “His positivity just lights up a room,” Hochheiser said.

“He’s always cracking jokes,” Ouza said of Hochheiser. “And he’s so knowledgeable too.”

Hochheiser is a reservist, which means he has a civilian job. But as lawyers, both have roles in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps. When Hochheiser is in the legal office, the two friends reconnect.

Ouza and Hochheiser both ended up stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  Now they are friends.  / Credit: Captain Hochheiser

Ouza and Hochheiser both ended up stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Now they are friends. / Credit: Captain Hochheiser

“We’re working out – her in her full hijab, me running in my yarmulke. We’re definitely a weird couple, and we love it. We love it when people give us that double look, like, ‘You’re really walking both of you?” Like, ‘Yeah, and we’re friends,'” Hochheiser said.

“Unfortunately, there are tensions between the Muslim and Jewish communities, and in order to bridge that gap, we need to make an active effort to diversify the two communities,” Ouza said. The duo turned to TikTok to share funny videos about their friendship.

“Joe and I wanted to show our communities, yes, we have differences, but despite our differences, we have a lot in common and we are stronger together,” she said. “Our religions have very similar traditions and values. We both believe in one God, we believe in the same prophets, we both dress modestly – I wear the hijab, he wears the yarmulke. We have restrictions similar foods – I eat halal, he eats kosher – neither of us eats pork. We both believe in the power of representation.”

She said that differences are also important and that we should aim to know and respect the differences of others.

Hochheiser said he admires Ouza for staying true to herself. “She’s awesome. I mean, that’s the only way to really describe her. She’s that role model I want my daughter to look up to.”

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