Dare To Fly

Martha McSally

William Morrow

May 26th, 2020

Dare 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.

A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Martha McSally served 26 years in the Air Force, retiring as full colonel. She is the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and the first to 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 except 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 great 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 to not 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 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 awhile 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 up 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.



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About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.