and interview by Elise Cooper
May 26, 2020/ ISBN 1094158275
To Fly by Senator
Martha McSally is a book about life's lessons told through
her own experiences. Even though unfathomable crimes
have been committed against her, she has persevered
emotionally and physically. The Senator has not let
her tragedies define who she is, but her triumphs.
graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Martha McSally
served 26 years in the Air Force, retiring as a full
colonel. She is the first female fighter pilot to fly
in combat and command a fighter squadron in combat in
United States history. She deployed six times to the
Middle East and Afghanistan and flew 325 combat hours
in the A-10 Warthog, earning the Bronze Star and six
air medals. First, as a Congresswoman and now as a Senator,
she represents the people of Arizona.
She was able to soar into the skies after overcoming
a height requirement. It seems she was a half-inch too
short. But the gutty, refusing to accept illogical barriers,
and persistent personality of hers, comes forward. McSally
noted, "It paid off because I received a waiver
letter sighting my successful cockpit evaluations, athletic,
and academic accomplishments, so they made an exception."
During her A-10 training, McSally experienced discrimination.
A flight instructor who had the power to fail her felt
he HAD to pass her just because she was a woman. Typical
of her personality, she did not back down. Recounting,
"I got in his face and said 'Flying fighters is
serious business. No one, no one, is telling you to
lower those standards and risk any of that for me. In
fact, if I don't meet the standards, and you don't flunk
me, then you're the one that doesn't have balls.' Fortunately,
I passed with flying colors. I wanted to prove I belonged
and that women could be patriots. I had a feisty attitude
that enabled me to push back and not be pushed over."
Her grittiness seems to be inherited from her parents.
At the age of twelve, her father died, and her mother
became a single mom, having to raise five children on
her own. "My mom was struggling in her own grief,
yet she went back to school to get her Masters. She
chose to put one foot in front of the other. This taught
me to push through adversity."
With Father's Day just around the corner, Martha wants
to acknowledge how her dad made a significant impact
in her life. "I learned more about my dad after
writing this book. He believed in hard work, service,
to get a good education, and to be driven to give back
to others. Right before he died, my dad asked to speak
to all of his children separately. He and I talked about
mundane stuff, but he also told me to make him proud.
This propelled me, although not right away, to move
forward and to make a difference in my life, to consider
every day a gift. I strived to carry his legacy of hard
work and compassion for others."
She definitely had compassion for others when confronting
the military over their requirements for US military
women to wear burkas. "Assigned to Kuwait, I saw
this picture of a US military woman wearing a headscarf
on a magazine cover. Right away, I thought, 'this is
wrong.' The Secretary of Defense was speaking where
I was deployed. I had to decide to ask him about the
policy or leave things alone. One of the lessons of
this book is not to walk away from a problem. I called
a mentor for advice and was told to read the Book of
Esther. There was a line that struck me, 'can it be
you were put in such a position for such a time like
this.' We both had to face risk and conviction. I realized
I could be a voice for the young enlisted women. Fast-forward
and I was assigned to Saudi Arabia, where I had to wear
a burka. I complied, while still fighting the policy.
I was about to file a lawsuit, and then 9/11 happened.
I remember sitting in the Saudi-based operations center,
watching news reports about freeing the Afghan women
from oppression. I yelled, 'am I the only one who sees
the irony in this? The very people who are helping free
Afghan women from wearing the burka are actually forcing
our own military to wear one.' Eventually, there was
legislation passed by bi-partisan support. In the House
Heather Wilson, the first female veteran elected to
Congress, played a pivotal role, along with others.
She recently retired from being Secretary of the Air
Force and wrote about this book, 'Inspiring for anyone-in
and out of the cockpit.'"
Unfortunately, McSally had the first-hand experience
with sexual abuse, both as a teenager in high school
and again in the military. "I share my experiences
because it happens to a lot of women and even some men.
I hope I can shine a light and let people see that it
did not hold me down. Abusers have already robbed their
victims, but I personally wanted to make sure that I
was not robbed of the future. For a while, I compartmentalized
to help me function, and I was broken. It had to reset
to trust the right people and stay wary of others instead
of boxing every one out. Otherwise, I was going to the
dark side. I did not want to get into a pattern of having
fear hold me back. Fear brings anger and parallelization.
I wanted to be courageous."
There is a very powerful quote about her canine friends:
‘I wouldn’t have survived this far without
the unconditional love of the furry, four-legged angels
in my life. You can make it through nearly anything
if you come home to the love of a dog who brings smiles,
joy, and a coat to dry all tears.’
She explains, "I could not live my life without
a dog. I grew up with dogs in my home. The first one
I had was a stray Beagle known as Hobo. I was twelve
when Hobo and my dad passed away. We then got Casey,
who became my lifeline as I was dealing with the grief
of losing my dad. Now with the pandemic, people are
struggling with isolation. They realize as they get
a dog from a shelter that they are the person's furry
wingman. Sometimes we wonder who rescued who because
they bring companionship, unconditional love, and can
lift someone when they are sad."
The book includes the "Man in the Arena" quote
by Theodore Roosevelt. "I found this quote in a
book while a cadet in the Air Force Academy and have
carried a copy with me ever since. It is now a yellowed
crinkled piece of paper, but I carry it around because
it speaks to my spirit. I have had different journeys
and challenges, and I want to always remind myself I
am in the arena. Similarly, anyone who reads this book,
I want to be their wingman to provide support and confront
from fear, grief, and betrayal."
This is a must-read for anyone who had challenges in
their life. Martha McSally shows how to survive hardships,
overcome barriers, survive the darkest moments, and
make someone proud. She is a straight-talker who sees
a problem and confronts it head-on.
and MyShelf.com would like to thank Senator Martha McSally
Senator Martha McSally ifor the interview.