WHAT A WOMAN….WOULDN’T SHE BE PERFECT FOR VICE PRESIDENT?
McSally earned her wings following graduation from Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin AFB, Texas and was initially assigned to Laughlin as a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) in the T-37 jet trainer. Following the repeal of the combat aircraft restriction for female pilots, she completed Lead-in Fighter Training (LIFT) in 1993. McSally became the first woman in U.S. history to fly a combat aircraft into enemy territory when she flew into Iraq in support of the United Nations no-fly zone enforcement.
McSally completed Replacement Training Unit for the A-10 Thunderbolt II at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and was assigned to an operational A-10 squadron and was deployed to Kuwait in January 1995. During that deployment, she flew combat patrols over Iraq in support of Operation Southern Watch, enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. In 1999, she deployed to Europe in support of Operation Allied Force. McSally was selected as one of seven active duty Air Force officers for the Legislative Fellowship program, during which time she lived in Washington, D.C. and advised Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on defense and foreign affairs policy.
Promoted to Major, she reported to Joint Task Force Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2000 for an Operation Southern Watch temporary assignment. Promoted below the zone to Lieutenant Colonel, she took command of the A-10 equipped 354th Fighter Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB in July 2004, and was subsequently deployed to Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, where she employed weapons loaded on her A-10 in combat for the first time. In 2005, McSally and her squadron were awarded the David C. Shilling Award, given by the Air Force Association for the best aerospace contribution to national defense.
Lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense (McSally v. Rumsfeld)
McSally was represented by the Rutherford Institute in a successful 2001 lawsuit against the Department of Defense, challenging the military policy that required U.S. and U.K. servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the body-covering abaya when traveling off base in the country. At the time of the lawsuit McSally, as a Major (O-4), was the highest ranking female fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Her suit alleged “the regulations required her to send the message that she believes women are subservient to men.” In addition to the issue of religious garb, McSally noted that policies also included other requirements:
In a “60 Minutes” interview broadcast on CBS on January 20, 2002, she described the discrimination she experienced under the policy: “I have to sit in the back and at all times I must be escorted by a male … [who], when questioned, is supposed to claim me as his wife,” she said. “I can fly a single-seat aircraft in enemy territory, but [in Saudi Arabia] I can’t drive a vehicle.”
During this process, she was granted audience with several high level officials, including two Secretaries of Defense, William Cohen and Donald Rumsfeld, which was atypical of a service member of her comparatively junior rank and position, especially in light of her public protest. General Tommy Franks, then commander of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), announced in 2002 that U.S. military servicewomen would no longer be required to wear the abaya, although they would be “encouraged” to do so as a show of respect for local customs. Commenting on the change, Central Command spokesman, Colonel Rick Thomas, said it was not made because of McSally’s lawsuit, but had already been “under review” before the lawsuit was filed. News reports noted that McSally had been fighting for a change in the policy for seven years, and had filed the lawsuit after she had been threatened with a court martial if she did not comply and wear the abaya.
Critics of the policy noted that while female U.S. military personnel had been required to wear the abaya outside of military installations in Saudi Arabia, the situation was not the same for “women diplomats” of the U.S. Department of State assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, who were actually encouraged not to wear the abaya when they were involved in official business, “…because they are representing the United States.” Embassy officials stated that, “…in their personal time, embassy employees can choose how to dress.” According to these U.S. officials, “…the Saudi government does not require non-Muslim women to wear a dark robe known as an abaya…. The official guidance, issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington, says that foreigners should dress conservatively but they are not required to wear the robe.”
Eventually the U.S. Congress “approved legislation that prohibited anyone in the military from requiring or encouraging servicewomen to put on abayas in Saudi Arabia or to use taxpayers’ money to buy them.”
McSally has continued to speak out about gender relations in Saudi Arabia. McSally retired from active duty with 22 years of commissioned service in the U.S. Air Force on May 6, 2010. As of March 2011, she worked as a professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.