McSally visits with Catalina Foothills

U.S. Congresswoman Martha McSally visits with Catalina Foothills High School Principal Angela Chomokos while visiting the school

As part of the Catalina Foothills High School College and Career Counseling Center’s ongoing college visit series, United States Representative Martha McSally shared her story of how she chose to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. Afterward, she answered extensive questions from Foothills students on the process of applying to one of the five U.S. military academies.

“One of the advantages of the military academies,” McSally said, “is that you pay back your education in service to your country.”

McSally continued, “When I was in your shoes, I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that education was the key in life. My dad came from humble circumstances. He was very driven and he wanted better opportunities than he had. Through his hard work and by serving his country through the Navy, he achieved a middle class life for his family. We were never in want or need.  But when I was 12, my dad passed away. My life was turned upside down dealing with that grief. My father always encouraged us to do something that made a difference, but I was angry and filled with grief.”

“When it was time to consider higher education, I was the fifth kid in our family trying to go to college and I didn’t want to saddle my mom with debt. I literally stumbled into my decision on going to the Air Force Academy. One day I came home and I was acting out. Just to get my mom’s attention, I told her that I was joining the Army. Instead of acting shocked, my mom replied, ‘If you want to go the Army, why don’t you go to one of the military academies?’  She spread all of the academies’ brochures on our dining room table, and I saw one with the Colorado Rockies on the cover. I picked up the Air Force Academy brochure. ‘This one looks good,” I said.  

“Most people at my school thought I would never make it. But the more I thought about it, I felt the discipline would be good for me, as a way to channel my grief. It wasn’t until I started at the Air Force Academy that I realized what I had gotten into, and then I realized that I wanted to be a fighter pilot.

“Opportunities opened up for me because I was in the academy. I got really focused and I channeled my energy where I could serve and make a difference. I became the first woman to fly in combat. I retired as a colonel. I got a master’s degree at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.”

With that background, the congresswoman encouraged the students to seriously look at the service academies.

“I encourage you to talk to your friends about the five service academies,” she said. “These schools can be a game changer for an individual who might not be thinking about a career in the military. These academies can present life-changing opportunities for you, even if you have never considered serving your country.”

McSally went on to describe the two-part process which includes both an application and a nomination from McSally. After answering all of the students’ questions, she recommended that interested applicants check their qualifications against each academy’s requirements and then review her website for more information on the nomination process (mcsally.house.gov). On Nov. 6, applications for nominations are due at McSally’s Tucson office. 

Her best advice for the nomination interview is to be yourself.

“Who you know doesn’t matter — who you are matters,” McSally said. “Be your best self.”

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