‘I, Too, Was a Survivor’: Senator McSally Ends Years of Silence

One victim was Lynn Hall, who said she was raped in December 2001 while in her first year at the Air Force Academy. Already a civilian pilot when she entered the academy, Ms. Hall had been introduced to a senior upperclassman, who would go on to rape her on one of the upper floors of the academy’s library.

Ms. Hall contracted herpes from the assault, which led to a meningitis and encephalitis infection. A doctor asked her whether she was sexually active, but fearing what would happen if she reported the rape, she said no. As a result, she said, she never received the right diagnosis or treatment. “It cascaded into all sorts of medical problems, and I didn’t get the medical care I needed,” she said.

She tried to stick it out, but left the academy in 2004 with a medical discharge.

Ms. McSally, during her senior year at the academy, finally got the height waiver she was seeking. It was the first such waiver in seven years.

In 1994, at the stick of an A-10 Warthog over the deserts of Iraq, she became the first American woman to fly in combat.

But even as she was making history, Ms. McSally was also making enemies.

In 2014, in the heat of Ms. McSally’s campaign for Congress, two pilots criticized her publicly, including her former commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Norris. He told an Arizona radio host that as a pilot, Ms. McSally displayed “incredible ineptness in the air” and was “under the highest level of supervision starting back in 1995, because she had severe lack of knowledge and credibility.”

Two other pilots said in recent interviews that Ms. McSally once took off with not enough fuel in her jet. And yet, they complained, she was often promoted ahead of her peers, despite what they described as middling pilot skills.

Ms. McSally’s allies say that much of the criticism about her stemmed from professional jealousy and an anti-female bias in the hyper-macho fighter pilot culture.