A recent graduation ceremony on a Leesburg campus featured an eye-opening statistic: It tripled the number of Muslim chaplains available to the U.S. military.
The Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences is the first school in the country approved by the U.S. military to train Muslim chaplains. The school was established three years ago in a Leesburg office park by a group of prominent Islamic scholars.
A first-of-its-kind group of seven military chaplaincy students graduated Aug. 28, with five slated to be commissioned in the Army and two in the Navy, according to a school spokeswoman. More are on the way, she added.
As of now, only three Muslim chaplains serve in the U.S. military, according to Pentagon officials.
Around 4,000 members of the military have identified themselves as Muslim, according to the Pentagon. The military is trying to catch up to the growing numbers.
"The American military is a reflection of American society," said Lt. Col. Tom Begines, a Pentagon spokesman. "We strive mightily to accommodate all the needs."
'Slugs' Fight Car-Pool Changes
The Pentagon's efforts to bring its vision of order to an impromptu car-pooling system have some "slugs" on the verge of rebellion.
Slugging, as the venerable system is called, involves riders who line up in the Pentagon parking lot to catch rides in cars whose drivers then get the benefit of using High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) express lanes.
Last month, the Washington Headquarters Service, which provides building services at the Pentagon, installed signs identifying specific pickup locations for slugs, as the riders are known, depending on their destination.
Navy Cmdr. Gadsen E. Rule, a longtime slug and resident of Stafford County, complains that the efforts at order have disrupted the natural flow of cars and slugs and caused long delays. Earlier this month, Rule fired off a letter of protest to Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.).
"My time in line roughly doubled," Rule wrote of the effect of the signs. "It was an unmitigated disaster! I felt sure slugs and drivers would rise up in response and the signs would go! But it got worse."
On Aug. 31, a chain-link fence was installed on the median strip on Fern Street to prevent slugs from crossing the road outside of crosswalk areas.
"It was unbelievable," Rule said. "Nothing was moving."
Kathy Brassell, a Washington Headquarters Service employee who helped formulate the changes and herself an 11-year veteran slug, said the changes were made after Warner requested improvements to the slug staging area.
"The proposed changes are our major thrust on improving this staging area," she wrote in an open letter to all Pentagon slugs on the unofficial slug Web page, www.slug-line.com. "We plan to make slight modifications as we go to help fine-tune the system, as needed (and then step back and let the system run itself like it has for so many years)."
Susan Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, said a pedestrian was hit by a car crossing the street earlier this year. "We're trying to ensure that nobody else gets hurt," Hansen said. "We want to make sure people don't run across open lanes of traffic." The Pentagon condones but does not operate the slugging operation.
But Rule says officials are trying to fix something that's not broken. "It's becoming extraordinarily inefficient, and a lot of people are going to quit slugging," Rule said.
AU's Ship Still AfloatFifty-four years ago, a Victory ship bearing the name of American University in Washington was commissioned for service in World War II. The SS American Victory soon will be starting a new life, but not in this area.
The American Victory, a 455-foot merchant ship, was one of 534 Victory ships churned out during World War II to transport troops, ammunition and supplies.
With that many ships, the U.S. Maritime Commission named some of the ships after colleges and universities. AU, which served as a U.S. Army facility during the war, was among those honored.
The SS American Victory also served during the Korean and Vietnam wars and then was refurbished by the government for $2 million in 1985 and assigned to the James River Reserve Fleet near Williamsburg.
Last year, the ship was slated to go to the scrap yard, but won a reprieve thanks to John Timmel, a Florida harbor pilot who wanted to preserve one of the ships as a memorial to all mariners, with a special emphasis on the sailors of the U.S. Merchant Marine, which suffered heavy casualties during the war.
Timmel was inspired by a visit four years ago to Baltimore, where he toured the SS John W. Brown, a World War II-vintage Liberty class ship docked in the harbor.
Timmel has created a nonprofit organization called the American Victory Mariners Memorial and Museum Ship and is having the American Victory towed to Florida, where it will be restored for use as a floating maritime museum adjacent to the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. "Our intention is to have this as a living museum," he said.
The trip from Virginia to Florida was to have been made in early September but has been delayed by bad weather. "Hurricane Dennis has let us know we're not really in control of things," Timmel said.
Weather permitting, the ship is scheduled to be towed this week.
"It's in marvelous condition. There's very little rust. Our job is to freshen up her makeup a little," Timmel said.
American University will help create a display on the ship that will depict the university's involvement in the war, according to Todd Sedmak, a spokesman for the university. "The ship will bring history to life, out of the textbooks and into people's hands," he said.
In years to come, the ship may pay a visit to her namesake's city. "We've spoken to American University about possibly going up to D.C.," Timmel said. "We want to take it step by step."
Military Matters appears every other week. Steve Vogel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org via e-mail.
CAPTION: Ibraheem Abdur Raheem, left, hugs 1st Lt. Abdullah A. Hulwe after they received master's degrees.