Female Combat Pilot McSally: ‘I Want to Kick Santorum’

by Daniel Foster

. . . and not in the shin, either.

Admittedly, that’s some salty language from Martha McSally, a Republican candidate in AZ-8′s special election to replace Gabby Giffords. But I had a chance to talk with Col. McSally (USAF, retired), a couple of days ago and can report that she is by any measure a highly impressive person. After graduating from the Air Force academy near the top of her class in 1988, she took an assignment flying little Cessna T-37 trainers (her other option was cargo planes) because she was determined to wait-out the Air Force’s ban on women as combat pilots. And wait it out she did, becoming one of the seven women handpicked by the brass to trail-blaze after the ban was lifted. She had her choice of the sexy, single-engine F-16 and the powerhouse F-15. But she opted for that ugly old bruiser, the A-10 “Warthog”, then considered the redheaded stepchild of the Air Force arsenal, because she didn’t want to sit at 40,000 feet shooting guided missiles at radar blips. She wanted to be on the front lines, with a big ol’ cannon –

 – and a rocket pod or two, protecting troops on the ground.

She went on to fly the A-10 over Kuwait, Iraq, and in 2005, Afghanistan, where she logged 300+ combat hours and became the first woman to command a fighter squadron. She was decorated individually for a sortie in which she provided fire support to American soldiers engaged in a close-quartered battle, even though she had lost her targeting instruments and was flying on what was essentially World War II technology. And her squadron was awarded the Air Force Association’s prestigious Schilling Award, due in part to its record of zero friendly and zero civilian casualties over the course of its deployment.

You get the idea. Anyway, I write all this as prelude to registering a modest disagreement with our editorial today, opposing the further expansion of combat-support roles open to women. I don’t know about women as riflemen, but I do know that McSally was and is reputed to be, as a combat pilot and a commander, not just the equal of her male colleagues, but in many cases their better. It strikes me, in this instance at least, as being a good thing that her talents were available over the skies of Afghanistan.

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