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Air Force captains bond over religion, even though they practice different ones

Air Force captains bond despite differences
Air Force captains bond over religion — even though they're different 02:48

In 2018, Captain Maysaa Ouza, a lawyer who wanted to join the Air Force, was conflicted. As a Muslim American, she wears a hijab, a religious veil that covers her hair. And while religious accommodations are made once you officially join the Air Force, she didn't know if she could keep her hijab on for training.

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

Hochheiser, also a laywer, 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's like, 'You can actually help her. She really wants to join, but she wears a hijab. You wear a yarmulke. Can you help her process her religious accommodation?'"

"I wanted nothing more than to serve my country," Captain Maysaa Ouza told CBS News. Captain Maysaa Ouza

Through his own experience, Hochheiser knew Jewish men had paved the way before him and had kept their yarmulke, or kippah, on for training. He thought Ouza would be fine. 

"I did not realize that her process took a little bit longer," Hochheiser said. 

Ouza wanted pre-approval to wear her hijab, and didn't know what she'd do without it. "I would essentially be forced to choose between representing my faith or serving my country," she told CBS News. "And I felt conflicted because I identify as a Muslim American and I wanted nothing more than to serve my country."

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

"I did not think that I would be making 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 later heard about the policy change on the news, and recognizing her as the young recruit he had heard about, he reached out to Ouza on Facebook. 

"She and I both grew up in tight-knit communities and families," he said. "There could be a natural hesitation between the two communities, but I was raised in a house to judge people based on who they are and what they do – and not based on religion, race or gender. And she had that same mindset."

"He sent me a photo of himself in uniform, wearing the kippah," 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. "Her positivity just lights up a room," Hochheiser said. 

"He's always cracking jokes," Ouza said of Hochheiser. "And he's so knowledgeable as well." 

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

Ouza and Hochheiser ended up both stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Now, they're friends. Capt. Hochheiser

"We exercise — her in her full hijab, me running with my yarmulke. We definitely make an odd couple, and we love it. We love when people give us that double look, like, 'Are you two really walking together?' Like, 'Yeah, and we're friends,'" Hochheiser said.

"Unfortunately, there is some tension between the Muslim and Jewish communities, and in order to bridge that gap, we have to make an active effort toward diversifying the two communities," Ouza said. The duo turned to TikTok to share fun videos about their friendship. 

"Joe and I wanted to show our communities, yes we have differences, but despite our differences, we have a great deal in common and we are stronger together," she said. "Our faiths 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 kippah. We have similar food restrictions – I eat halal, he eats kosher – neither one of us eats pork. We both believe in the power of representation." 

She said differences are also important, and we should aim to learn about and respect others' differences. 

Hochheiser said he admires Ouza for staying true to herself. "She's kick-ass. I mean, that's the only way to really describe her. She is that role model I want my daughter to look up to."

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