An honored member of the United States Air Force, an advocate for servicewomen, former Arizona Congressional candidate and an accomplished athlete, Warwick native Col. Martha E. McSally will be inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.
McSally will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with eight other prominent Rhode Islanders (five living, four will be inducted posthumously) this Friday during the 49th induction ceremony at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet.
According to a press release, there are 690 Rhode Islanders in the Hall of Fame, including Roger Williams. The hall was created in 1965 “to honor ‘any individual who has brought credit to Rhode Island, brought Rhode Island into prominence, and contributed to the history and heritage of the state.’”
“The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame honors Rhode Islanders throughout history and from all walks of life. Martha McSally is very contemporary but brought attention [to our state] in a very positive way,” said Frank Lennon, board member of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame who will induct McCarthy during Friday’s ceremony. Lennon has a history in the military himself, is a West Point graduate and a Vietnam veteran. He is also the founder of the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame.
In addition to being the first woman to fly a combat aircraft and the first woman to command a combat aviation unit, McSally gained national exposure by publicly advocating for the rights of females in the service.
In 2001, the St. Mary Academy Bay View graduate, who was valedictorian of the class of 1984, filed a lawsuit that resulted in overturning a military policy that would require a U.S. servicewoman to wear a headscarf and Muslim abaya when off base in the Middle East.
“She was standing up for servicewomen forced to live in a different way while serving in the Middle East,” said Lennon.
Following her completion of flight school, McSally was in the first group of female fighter pilots with six other women. She joined a squadron flying an A-10 Thunderbolt and flew into enemy territory in Iraq in January 1995.
Following her involvement in the highly-selective Legislative Fellowship Program as a national security advisor to Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), McSally became the commander of the 354th Fighter Squadron in July 2004, leading the squadron on combat deployment in Afghanistan from September 2005 to February 2006. She was awarded the Bronze Star and multiple Air Force medals for her leadership and performance.
The Heritage Hall of Fame learned of McSally and her many accomplishments, which also includes a run for Gabrielle Giffords’ seat in the House of Representatives in 2012, from a retired educator from Bristol. The gentleman had found out about McSally’s efforts on behalf of servicewomen and, after some research, decided she was worthy of a nomination to the Hall of Fame. The board of directors agreed.
“Here is a remarkable individual,” said Dr. Patrick T. Conley, president of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. “The board was impressed.”
Conely added that it is common for nominations to come from a member of the board, so when one comes from someone outside of the organization, extra weight is given.
Lennon agrees that McSally’s accomplishments are impressive. “I am very excited to meet her. She sounds like an amazing person,” said Lennon.
Following her time in the Air Force (she officially retired in 2010), McSally was a professor of national security studies at the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany. She left that position to run for Giffords’ seat.
McSally is also an accomplished runner and mountain climber. She won the National Military Triathlon Championship multiple times and won the military division of the Hawaii Ironman competition. She also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, and Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe.
Following her tenure as a student at Bay View, McSally attended the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Air War College.
“It won’t be long before she is inducted into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame,” added Lennon, who is president and treasurer of that organization.
Other inductees for Friday’s ceremony include Wilma H. Briggs, a star in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s and 1950s; James V. Healey, a leader in the treatment of citizens with developmental disabilities and professional athlete; Joseph R. Paolino Sr., a real estate mogul and philanthropist; and Michael E. Renzi, a master pianist and musical director.