Warwick-born and raised, Martha McSally is truly a renaissance woman. She is an Air Force Academy graduate who was the first American woman to fly in combat and was also the first woman to command a USAF fighter squadron.
No slouch at school, Martha was a Rhodes Scholarship regional finalist and a White House Fellowship National Finalist. She graduated from the Air War College, first in her class of 225 future senior military leaders.
McSally also won the National Military Triathlon Championship several times and also won the military division of the Hawaii Ironman competition. She has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, and Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. An accomplished singer, Martha has sung the national anthem at dozens of events.
In 2001-2002, Martha earned national recognition for filing a lawsuit that overturned a military policy requiring all U.S. servicewomen to wear a Muslim abaya (a long cloak-like garment) and a headscarf when off-base in Saudi Arabia.
This career of firsts and remarkable achievements began in the early 1980s. McSally graduated from St. Mary Academy – Bay View in 1984 as valedictorian of her class, and four years later she was back to deliver the commencement address at her alma mater. By then she was a newly-minted Air Force 2nd lieutenant, having just graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado.
She then earned a master’s degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government prior to going to flight school. Halfway through her pilot training, Congress repealed the law prohibiting women from flying combat aircraft. Two years later, McSally was in the first group of seven women assigned as fighter pilots. She joined a squadron flying the A-10 Thunderbolt, and in January 1995, she became the first American woman to fly a combat aircraft into enemy territory when she flew her first sortie into Iraq.
In 1999, Martha was one of only seven Air Force officers selected for the prestigious Legislative Fellowship Program. She worked on Capitol Hill as a national security advisor to Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on issues including terrorism, cyber security, and missile defense.
She took command of the 354th Fighter Squadron in July 2004, becoming the first woman to command a combat aviation unit. She led her squadron on a combat deployment to Afghanistan from September 2005 until February 2006, flying over 225 combat hours. She was awarded a Bronze Star and multiple Air Medals for her combat leadership and performance.
Martha’s last assignment in the Air Force was with Africa Command, where she was responsible for oversight of all U.S. military operations and activities on the continent of Africa, including counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations. She retired from the Air Force in 2010 as a command pilot with more than 2600 flight hours, including some 325 combat hours.
After retirement, Martha served as a Professor of National Security Studies at the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany. She resigned her professorship in 2012 to run for Congress from Arizona, losing one of the tightest elections in the country after a recount of provisional and absentee ballots.
Martha now lives in Tucson where she is very active in her local community.
– Francis L. Lennon