In Saudi Arabia, for both the natives to the country and those who serve there, seeing woman in the U.S. Military, according to a New York Times article published in the 1990s, is an encounter that shocks both. It is, as the article described best, a cultural chasm at best.
Saudi Arabia is, after all, a conservative Islamic country where women wear black veils, walk on the streets two steps behind their men and are prohibited from driving and from doing a great number of other things.
Today, tens of thousands of American women, many of whom are being deployed there, serve in a broad range of duties in the military to include serving as pilots, mechanics, logistics supervisors, armed guards and military police officers.
So when American women, such as 34-year-old Amber Lux, a Tioga County native, deploy to these culturally diverse areas, it can present challenges like none other during their time of service.
In an interview recently, we spoke with Lux, and got an insight into what it takes to serve in an area where the Saudi hosts, along with the women who are serving, are still struggling with cultural differences that are too diverse to even comprehend.
Born into a military family in Fairbanks, Alaska, at Ft. Wainwright, Lux was soon to follow her father’s footsteps and joined the U.S. Navy. It was Jan. 8, 1997.
Unlike her father, who served in the U. S .Army, Lux joined the Navy, and would serve as a Flag Writer. Her rate was Yeoman.
The flag writer mission, according to Lux, is to assist and support the administrative and personal needs of the flag and general officer community in an independent duty role by providing the right person in the right place at the right time.
And during her years of service, which spanned from 1997 to 2011, Lux had the opportunity to deploy to Saudi Arabia, where she served a tour of duty from 1999 to 2001. She was attached to Electronic Attack Squadron ONE FOUR TWO, where she served as the executive assistant to the commander of Electronic Attack Squadron in support of the Squadron’s mission to project decisive, sustainable and rapidly deployable Electronic Attack capabilities.
Lux also directed and supervised seven junior personnel, while achieving exceptional results during the processing of 115 personnel evaluations, and 400 personnel awards. She disseminated incoming correspondence, drafted Naval messages and filed administrative material and command directives. Other duties included the preparation of correspondence and command muster reports, the processing of message traffic; and counseling to personnel on pay, allowances and entitlements.
But this was not all Lux did while overseas. She performed vital duties of distributing material to Defense Courier Service (DCS) stations, provided personnel assistance in completing security clearance paperwork, recorded disciplinary proceedings actions and inventoried classified material, processed Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) documents; tracked classified mail; and prepared Permanent Change of Station (PCS) notification documents.
When named as Alternate Agency Program coordinator for the Government Visa Card Program and travel supervisor for the Squadron, she also initiated the mobile utilization of the Automated Travel Order System enabling the preparation of emergent orders and facilitated rapid solutions to travel-related problems while on detachment.
Ultimately, Lux participated in training and joint operations in support of U.S. and Multi-National Forces during Operations SOUTHERN WATCH and NORTHERN WATCH in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, respectively.
According to Lux, it was very common if a woman had the job skills required to perform the job and support the mission, then they would go on deployment right next to the men.
“We had many mechanics that were women as well as information technicians and administrative personnel,” Lux said.
The Culture in Turkey and Saudi Arabia
But unique to serving in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, according to Lux, was the culture off base. She described that the culture was the same for a woman as it was for a man in the Squadron and in the military in general. But women, she noted, that were deployed to some countries had to abide by their customs while off the compound or facility.
In order to comply, they had to be briefed on the protocol and requirements of the country visited.
“Everyone was briefed, including the men, on what and how we are to operate in a foreign country,” Lux added.
But for Lux, the things that she learned about the culture, especially for women, made her nervous.
“I personally was nervous, especially when leaving the compound,” Lux said. In Incirlik Air Base, located in Turkey, the women were able to leave the compound, but they had to be dressed appropriately.
In Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, according to Lux, they were not allowed to leave the compound.
“Being so far from home was difficult,” Lux noted. “If something happened to my family I wouldn’t be able to get home as easy as if I was in the states.”
Lux offered examples of what she needed to know while she was deployed to Turkey. She stated that the Turks are very proud of their history and the founder of their country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
She continued, “They show a great respect to Ataturk’s name, pictures and statues. Do not act disrespectfully to Ataturk’s name, pictures or statues, including Turkish money, which has Ataturk’s picture on it.”
Other rules Lux described were as follows.
As the national symbol, the Turkish flag should be respected. Do not use the Turkish flag for decorative purposes, such as a table cloth, curtain or a design on your clothing.
Ninety-nine percent of the Turks are Muslim. Do not discuss religious issues with local nationals.
Do not discuss politics with local nationals. You could be easily misunderstood.
Do not photograph Turkish military bases, camps, port installations, operations or exercises.
Do not photograph military or security forces personnel, equipment, hardware or buildings.
Do not photograph government buildings or offices.
Ask permission before taking photographs of a Turkish woman.
Dress conservatively. Shorts, sleeveless shirts or tight clothing showing your body lines are not recommended.
Do not blow your nose in front of people, especially while eating with other people. It is considered very rude and disrespectful.
Do not speak loudly in the street. It is considered rude.
Do not say “I am sick,” say “I am ill,” because “sick” has a bad meaning in Turkish language.
While visiting a Turkish home, you are expected to take your shoes off and put on the slippers offered by the host.
Do not cross your legs in front of elderly people or high ranking officials. It is considered a rude and disrespectful act.
Do not smoke in front of elderly people and high ranking officials.
Do not cross your legs showing the heels of your shoes. It is considered a rude and disrespectful act.
Try to learn a few basic words in Turkish.
While shopping you might be offered something to drink like tea, coffee or soda. Drink it, but don’t think you have to buy something. It is part of the traditional Turkish hospitality.
The Saudi Experience
In Saudi Arabia, according to Lux, women and men were not allowed to leave the compound, but if by some chance they had to, they would obey the customs and laws of the host country to include the attire restrictions.
But with the tight restrictions, Lux noted that those serving there had each other.
“We were all very close,” described Lux, “we had to be to keep each other safe. We used the buddy system. Nobody was allowed out alone, they had to have another service member with them.”
Lux also noted that when they did have to leave the base of the perimeter, she had to do so in a veil and traditional garb, and had to duck down almost the entire time to avoid stray bullets.
Back at the compound, the troops stayed in what was called “Tent City.” Tent City was a series of tents with multiple little closet-sized bunks separated by a partition, or in some cases sheets. Men were not staying in the same tents as women, but were relatively close.
The heat, Lux stated, was indescribable. It was humid and hot, and they were constantly being told to hydrate. They also had to wear full desert camouflage, and were able to take off the jacket in Turkey. In Saudi Arabia they were required to wear a helmet and special vests while busing from their tents to the hanger bay.
Lux and her comrades were also faced with some other challenges, like the Camel Spiders.
Solifugae, also known as Camel Spiders, are prevalent in the middle east, and are known to reach up to 12 inches in length, and are rumored to travel up to 10 mph in short distances. Summed up by Lux, “The Camel Spiders were huge.”
She described being cautious of the spiders, and shaking her shoes and boots before putting them on.
Another challenging aspect of serving in both Saudi and Turkey was the prospect of a home-cooked meal — or rather the lack of it. Lux, alongside her comrades, ate in either a chow hall or mess hall, and survived on MRE’s, or Meals Ready to Eat. In Turkey, they had a Burger King on the base, but not much else. If they left the base in Turkey, at specific times with a buddy, they could eat traditional Turkish food.
In summation of her duties while serving, and the cultural differences, Lux took it all in stride, stating, “Know the customs and courtesies and respect the laws. As a military woman, don’t expect special treatment. One team, one fight.”
Back Home
With her service behind her, Lux is now in back in the states, and is enjoying American life with her family.
“I love being back with my family, it was hard being deployed because you couldn’t make phone calls as much,” Lux said.
She also talked of the support she received while serving her country.
“I was super excited to get care packages from the one’s I love and others that were sending them to the troop’s in support of us defending the country,” exclaimed Lux.
Today, she is supporting the Navy in a different capacity. Lux is currently working at the Washington Navy Yard in the engineering and shipbuilding group.
Lux, later in her career, also built upon her family, and gave birth to Tristan, now 5, and Brianna, 3. Her husband, Toby Lux, has family in Tioga County, N.Y., and is also working in the Washington, D.C. area.
Having her children, and building her family, led to her decision to depart from active service, and join the ranks of civil service.
“I wanted to be able to stay in the area and start a family,” Lux added.
Now living in Woodbridge, Va., and reflecting on her Middle East experience, Lux described it as a completely different world.
“The culture in the Middle East is a whole different world, but we have all nationalities around us.”
On Memorial Day, Lux and her family returned to their hometown in Tioga County, N.Y., and were able to spend time reflecting on their lives, and their service. They were also able to attend the annual parade.
“It was such a blessing to be able to enjoy the Memorial Day Parade being held in Owego,” said Lux, who visited her mother-in-law Jeanne Lux, also a Navy veteran.
“She is a phenomenal woman,” Lux said of her mother-in-law. “I have so many inspirational people around me.”
Summing up her experience, Lux concluded of her life in America, “What better country to live to live in, I am truly humbled and happy.”
Lux, during her service, received many commendations and awards to include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (2) - 2005/2008; Joint Service Achievement Medal (1) - 1998; Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (4) - 2001/2003/2007/2009; Navy and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal (4) -2000/2004/2007/2010; Joint Meritorious Unit Award - 2001; Meritorious Unit Commendation -2002; Air Force Outstanding Unit Award - 2002; National Defense Service Medal - 2003; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal - 2002; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal - 2003; Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal - 2003; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon - 2002; 3rd Quarter 2003 Sailor of the Year; 3rd Quarter 2003 Sailor of the Quarter; 1st Quarter 2002 Sailor of the Quarter; and 4th Quarter 2000 Sailor of the Quarter.