Biography

martha smallMartha McSally

 • First US female combat pilot
 • First US female combat squadron commander
 • Decorated military leader and pioneer

 

Colonel (retired) Martha McSally is a pioneer and leader. She was the first woman in U.S. history to command a Fighter Squadron in combat, earning the Bronze Star and 6 air medals for her combat leadership and 325 combat hours in the single-seat A-10 “Warthog.” Under her command, the 354th Fighter Squadron earned the prestigious 2006 Air Force Association’s David C. Shilling Award for the most outstanding contribution in the field of flight. Martha uses her unique life and leadership experiences to impart listeners with the tools needed to reach their goals, become better leaders and inspire their teams.

Throughout her military career, Martha was recognized as a change agent and a transformational and entrepreneurial leader. She retired as a Colonel after 22 years active duty, where she was promoted four years ahead of her peers for her leadership performance and potential. As a Major, Martha was selected as only 1 of 7 active duty officers to be a Legislative Fellow, serving as a defense and foreign affairs advisor to U.S. Senator Jon Kyl. She was also handpicked for the leadership team tasked to stand up U.S. Africa Command—responsible for all U.S. security operations and activities in Africa–from scratch with limited resources, manpower, facilities and an impossible timeline for assumption of missions. After retirement, Colonel (ret) McSally was selected as a leader to transform the George C. Marshall Center into a more efficient, effective organization while also serving as a Professor of National Security Studies. Her innovative and inspiring efforts impacted hundreds of senior government leaders from all over the world.

Colonel McSally’s leadership success did not come easy. Her father died suddenly when she was 12 years old, putting her on a course in life formed and shaped by the tragedy and its defining perspectives. In between heart attacks, he told Martha to make him proud. As the youngest of five kids in a middle class family, she set out to carry on his legacy, make a difference, and live every day as a gift.

Martha possesses extraordinary determination, focus, and endurance to accomplish her vision and goals, sometimes against insurmountable odds and in brutally challenging circumstances. She was the first woman in U.S. history to fly a fighter aircraft in combat, volunteering to be at the tip of the spear for the unwelcome transition of women into previously all male fighter units. While at the Academy, she decided she wanted to complete the grueling Hawaii Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). In 1993, after finishing several marathons, winning the national triathlon championship, competing in multiple ½ Ironmans and 1 full Ironman, she won the women’s military division and placed 12th in her age group in the world at the famous Hawaii race. Recently, Martha climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro–the highest mountain in Africa–despite suffering a broken kneecap that she walked on for the final 10 miles of the descent. Martha has also inspired and coached dozens of friends, colleagues, and relatives to finish their first marathon.

Martha knows how to get things done and is not afraid to do the right thing and persevere regardless of the personal cost. In 2001-2002, Martha McSally earned national recognition for successfully overturning a military policy requiring all U.S. servicewomen to wear a Muslim Abaya and headscarf when off base in Saudi Arabia. She believed the policy was unconstitutional and degraded the mission, did her research and engaged up the military chain of command for seven years without seeing change. She then put her career on the line and filed McSally vs Rumsfeld in federal court. Martha subsequently used what she learned as a Legislative Fellow and drafted legislation, gained sponsors from both sides of the aisle, and shepherded it to gain unanimous approval in both houses of Congress and the President, overturning the policy 8 years after she first engaged on the issue.

Martha knows how to successfully lead a winning team on a demanding mission, regardless of the obstacles, setbacks, limitations, and challenges. As an A-10 Squadron Commander, she was responsible to deploy her squadron anywhere in the world on 24 hours notice to defend America. She stewarded 27 aircraft and equipment valued over $300M and led a diverse team of fighter pilots, intelligence, life support, and aviation resource management personnel in 6000 flying missions annually maintaining 15 different combat qualifications. She spearheaded the effort to qualify all her pilots in a new infra-red targeting pod and night vision goggle takeoffs and landings in record time prior to deploying to Afghanistan, saving lives.

Martha also led a diverse team of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine personnel in planning and execution of complex counter-terrorism and counter-piracy missions in Africa. In 2012, Martha resigned her professorship due to a personal conviction to run for Congress. She tirelessly led a fast-paced, high-stress 205-day campaign against all odds from a cold start with zero political experience. Amazingly, she galvanized tremendous excitement and support, built a team, raised $1.4M and earned 49.57% of the vote, coming up short by only .84% against an incumbent hand-picked successor of Gabby Giffords.

Colonel (retired) McSally is passionate about education and knowledge as a key to mission success. She is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and holds two Masters Degrees—one in Public Policy from the JFK School of Government at Harvard University, and one in Strategic Studies from Air War College, where she graduated #1 in her class of 261 senior military leaders. Martha was a Rhodes Scholarship regional finalist and White House Fellowship National Finalist.

Martha was awarded with an Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law from Rhode Island College and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Center on Women in Policing. The Freedom Forum named her as one of three national winners of the 2002 Al Neuharth Free Spirit Award. Martha is also a gifted singer, performing the national anthem at many high-visibility events. Her career, courage, and leadership have been featured in the national media, including 60 minutes, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and multiple Fox News shows.

Colonel (ret) McSally is a pioneering leader who happens to be a woman. She achieved in an extremely male dominated field where the stakes are high and lives are on the line. She has led men and women into combat and earned trust and respect from subordinates, peers, and superiors. Martha is incredibly effective speaking to predominantly male audiences as that is her life experience. She also has a passion to be a role model and inspire young girls and women to achieve their dreams and leadership potential.

Colonel McSally is a truly is an inspiration to business leaders, military members, youth, activists, athletes, and women. She is a gifted orator with a fire in her belly and her passion is contagious to all who hear her and know her. She possesses a remarkable ability to relate lessons of her journey to your journey–in business, community, family, and life. Her leadership pillars of vision, excellence, fighting spirit, perseverance, moral courage, knowledge, innovation, and teamwork have been proven in her extraordinary life journey and can transform your business, organization, and life. Her story and message will make you laugh and cry and sit on the edge of your seat, then leave you and your team inspired to take on your next mission with passion and determination.