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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force officer whose objections led the Defense Department to drop its policy forcing U.S. servicewomen in Saudi Arabia to don traditional Islamic headgear has been selected for a senior leadership post at the Air Force Academy.

Lt. Col. Martha McSally, who won fame before the abaya issue as the first female Air Force pilot to fly in combat, has been selected as one of four group commanders at the Colorado Springs, Colo., academy.

McSally volunteered for the prestigious group commander post after being selected as one of 432 Air Force officers eligible for a 2003 appointment to one of the Defense Department’s elite senior service schools, which include the Air War College, Army War College, Naval War College, and the National War College.

Of those candidates, 32 officers sought consideration for the three group commander slots that will open at the academy this year, according to Maj. Gary Foster, chief of Developmental Education at the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base.

McSally is currently Chief of Offensive Duty Operations for the 612th Combat Operations Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

“I wanted the opportunity to command,” McSally said in a prepared statement about her application to become a group commander. “I saw the position as a great opportunity to influence and lead the next generation of officers.”

“We’re thrilled she’ll be joining our staff,” Johnny Whitaker, director of Academy communications, said in a Wednesday e-mail to Stripes.

McSally “has an outstanding record, great character and will be an outstanding example for our cadets,” Whitaker said.

McSally is scheduled to arrive at the academy in May, Whitaker said.

The academy’s four group commanders each oversee more than 1,000 cadets, as well as 10 officers, 10 noncommissioned officers and one civilian.

The commanders “plan, direct, and implement policies, programs and procedures directly impacting the morale, welfare, administration and training of all assigned personnel,” Whitaker said.

Group commanders also make recommendations on disciplinary and retention issues for cadets under their purview. The posting lasts for two years.

McSally challenged the DOD’s abaya policy in 2001, after she was told by superiors to wear the black, head-to-toe garment while stationed in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi law does not mandate the wearing of abayas, although custom demands women cover their hair, arms, legs and neck with clothing. DOD was the only U.S. agency to post an abaya requirement for its personnel, claiming it was necessary for ‘force protection.”

After asking her superiors to change the policy without success, McSally filed suit against Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in federal court in Washington in 2002.

Later that year, Congressional lawmakers unanimously passed a no-abayas amendment as part of the fiscal 2003 defense budget authorization.

Female servicemembers deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan have never been required to make any special adjustments in their dress to accommodate Muslim sensibilities in those countries, Marine Capt. David Romley, a CENTCOM spokesman, said Wednesday.

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