McSally’s account of fellow pilots’ deaths, relationships questioned

In a recent interview with Colonel (ret.) “Pappy” Russell, James T. Harris asked the former A-10 pilot about persistent rumors regarding Colonel (ret.) Martha McSally and her Air Force career. “Pappy,” born and raised in Arizona, and a graduate from the University of Arizona, now lives in CD2; the congressional district in which McSally is running for the second time.

McSally, who lost her bid for the district two years ago, is the Republican establishment candidate facing and is facing two challengers; Command Chief Master Sergeant (ret.) Chuck Wooten and McSally’s friend and former campaign manager Shelley Kais.

It is widely believed that McSally, used her experience as an A-10, to enlisted Kais to be her wingman in the campaign to take flak while McSally sails through the Republican Primary. The Republican establishment, under the leadership of senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, hand-picked McSally, a Rhode Island native, and provided a total makeover for McSally after the retirement of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

“Pappy” was invited on the Harris’s show, on 104.1FM KQTH, after Harris became aware of the growing concern in the A-10 pilot community about the narrative the McSally was crafting as part of her total makeover.

To hear the interview, click here.

“Pappy” first met McSally almost 2 decades ago when he served as her superior officer and was assigned as an A-10 instructor in Tucson in the 355th training Wing at Davis Monthan. At the time, McSally was in an “upgrade” program, in which pilots acquire new skills or training.

Harris asked “Pappy” about McSally’s website and some posting that had “struck a nerve with him and other A-10 pilots, who had the same reaction to her version of history” The pilots were particularly disturbed by her account of the deaths of two A- 10 pilots Captain Craig Button and Captain Amy Svaboda.

McSally posted the following on her Facebook page:

17 years ago tonight I was leading a 4-ship flight of A-10s on a night vision goggle (NVG) tactical training mission on the Barry Goldwater Range west of Tucson. It was a very dark night with no horizon to tell up from down and NVGs were still fairly new for us. I turned and saw a fire on the ground on the range South of us, then heard the emergency call for help from the flight lead. After the shock and disbelief, I quickly discovered one of the A-10s had crashed and soon realized it was Capt Amy Svoboda’s plane since I heard each of the other pilots on the radio except for her.

I took over as on-scene commander for the search and rescue while her flight lead went to air refuel. We hoped she had ejected before the crash. Over and over I called her on the radio and got silence in return and we looked all over through our NVGs for any signs of life. We hit bingo fuel and had to fly back to DM not knowing her fate–a very lonely and quiet flight. We found out the next morning that she had perished.

Amy was an exceptional officer and pilot who was respected and loved by many. I got used to being the only female after transitioning into fighters, so it was great to have a “wingwoman” in the squadron when she arrived. Her death cut short a promising career and full life. She served faithfully and honorably, and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Her family remains in Tucson and they are in my thoughts and prayers today and so often in these last 17 years since that dark night.

McSally has frequently used the deaths of Button and Svaboda, according to pilots, to “gain glory” and sympathy.

“Pappy” said of McSally’s posting, “There’s very little there that truly happened, because I was intimately involved with both of those events. The first was an accident that directly affected my life, because I was going through a requalification course in the A-10 and had been told by the squadron that I would be not deploying with the unit. However, the unfortunate mishap came about that resulted in the death of Captain Amy Svaboda, so I was told I needed to start gearing up for my deployment.”

“Pappy” was sent to Kuwait in place of the deceased Svaboda. “I know all the details of what happened that night,” said “Pappy” on the night of Svaboda’s death, when her plane crashed in the Arizona desert . “They were on, what is called, the south tac, which is the tactical range out near Gila Bend.” “Pappy” said that the survivors in Svaboda’s crew that night “were supposed to deploy as well, but they were held back in order to be interviewed by accident investigators. They eventually did rejoin us in Kuwait, after their interviews have been completed and they were no longer needed. They came over on a commercial flight and rejoined us in Kuwait. We spent the next three months, or so, going over the events of that evening. At no time during our conversations did McSally’s name surface. In her post, she stated that she went over and took over scene command. As I said, at that time she was in an upgrade program meaning that even if she was airborne, which none of us recall, and I have contacted each of the individuals that were on the range that night. None of them can recall anything that she reveals in that story as being accurate or truthful.”

“The story about going over and taking charge while you were in an upgrade is not believable to somebody with my experience. Therefore, it is my opinion, that that is not accurate,” said “Pappy.” He continued, “I have led many large formations, and if something like that had occurred, and had I been the instructor of record on that flight, I would’ve taken on scene command. I would not allow an upgrade pilot to take command. I would have used them as perhaps a radio relay, or not at all. I might have just sent them home. I don’t know, it depends on the situation, but I talked to the pilot who she claims called for her assistance and he has no recollection that that ever occurred.”

“Pappy” continued, “So it just strikes me strikes me as odd that you would use a tragic event like that – to place glory on yourself – I don’t understand that. Especially with the facts revealed there (her website) were not those, that are shared by” the people “that were particularly involved with the incident and those associated with it. In my case I became very close to all of those members e because I spent the next several months with them over in Kuwait flying combat missions.”

By the time “Pappy” returned to Davis Monthan, McSally had moved onto a different squadron.

Harris noted that as “Pappy” was recounting the death of Svaboda, he was emotional and clearly upset that “someone would steal that glory. That someone would ingratiate themselves into a tragic situation in order to gain sympathy.” Harris apologized to “Pappy” for taking him “back to a place that’s painful.”

Harris asked “Pappy” about another death that McSally has exploited; the apparent suicide of Captain Craig Button. Harris and “Pappy” discussed the “narrative here that McSally has created in order to promote herself and her career.” Harris said, “The hidden parts of McSally’s life speak to her character.”

There are very many hidden parts to McSally’s life. She has refused to participate in debates and interviews; instead her handlers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on commercials sharing her narrative and new makeover with the low information voters of CD2.

Those low information voters, who have relied on the Republican establishment and McSally for information, have likely heard of the death of Captain Button and her close relationship to him. However, according to “Pappy” the two pilots were not close. “Once again it appears, in my opinion, to be an opportunity McSally to inject herself in a tragedy. I was called in when this happened,” referring to Button’s death, “about a month before Captain Svaboda’s death. I was called in to the command post immediately to be part of the crisis action team and start trying to reconstruct what happened to Capt. Craig Button.”

The investigation included asking why we believe, he did what we believe he did. What we think happened. He was caring 500 pound bombs. What his track was. Part of that, was trying to establish what his character was. What would cause him to do something like this. Part of that, is interviewing his friends. So I had the opportunity to speak to many of his classmates in his initial qualification course, at which time I was asked by those individuals who is this person,” referring to McSally, who had appeared out of nowhere it seemed and claimed a friendship with Button. “I said, well at least she claims to be a very good very close friend of Captain Button’s, and that’s why she was involved in the story now. But they had never heard of her. I’ve been through plenty of upgrade programs in my life and one thing that you do very much, is socially and professionally interact a great deal with your classmates.”

“Pappy’ said that if Button and McSally had been close friends, Button’s friends would have known. “In my opinion, they were of an age, where they would have attended the Academy at the same time. So they may have been acquaintances, I have no idea, but she was certainly not, according to his classmates, involved in any activities that were going on in that beginning A- 10 pilot course.”

Harris asked “Pappy” about McSally’s strange participation in the Svoboda and Button funerals. “Pappy” said, “Yes, she sang… I know that when she sang at Captain Svaboda’s funeral it greatly upset the other members of the fighter squadron, that she had been associated with, because I spent the next few months talking with them about that. I did not have the pleasure of knowing Captain Svaboda. All I can tell you, is what was related to me by her squadron mates. She was very highly respected. She was missed greatly, but never in the conversation did McSally’s name surface. And there was no positive reaction, but they were close friends allegedly.”

Harris asked “Pappy” if he was at the funeral. “Pappy” responded that he was there. Harris then asked if McSally can sing, to which “Pappy” responded, “I wasn’t listening I was too angry.”

Harris asked “Pappy” if it was true that McSally said that Alabamans have no teeth at her pinning ceremony at Maxwell Air Force base in Alabama. “That is the rumor,” said Pappy”. “That was going around, but I can’t substantiate it myself because I was not there in attendance. But as a previous colonel, who’s assignments are made by generals, they will normally pin based upon your capability to handle responsibilities at the level they’re confident you can handle. Her following assignment to Germany, indicates to me, in my opinion, that their trust in her capabilities to lead was somewhat diminished.”

“Pappy” continued, “In her capacity, (in Germany) she would have instructed about 140 students folks, for 12 week classes – not a lot of responsibility – not a lot of hard thinking, has to go on.” In comparison, when “Pappy” moved on he was “assigned to oversee the operations of 43,000 personnel, over 600 combat aircraft, and over $3 billion of economic impact. In addition, I was tasked with being the DOD lead for six presidential trips to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. And that includes making tough decisions. That’s decision-making: how do I bed down what the Secret Service needs for a country 13 miles off the shore of a not-friendly country like Venezuela, and protect not only our president but 25 other heads of states as we were charge to do. The Department of State asked me to come and assist them in bedding down the logistics, the fighters, the early warning, the tankers, security forces, list goes on and on. I make direct recommendations. I set force structure and they always accept it. That’s fixing problems,” said “Pappy.”

Harris then asked “Pappy” about the story of McSally and her empty gas tank. “Pappy” replied, “What was what is supposed to happen, is that the crew chief, a nine level, which is a more senior individual, signs off that the aircraft is completely turned (ready to go), but it’s the ultimate responsibility of the pilot to accept that. Part of her responsibility is the checklist for pre-takeoff. You are directed, and it is not optional, to make sure the fuel gauge is functional and that you have the gas to perform the duty you’re supposed to perform. That didn’t happen. So shortly after getting airborne – again I said she was on an upgrade program – shortly after getting airborne, she calls out to the instructor, that she’s going to emergency; emergency communications.”

“Pappy” explained that there are “many radios in the airplane and communications problems don’t usually lead to emergencies.” But he said, that because she’s a pilot, ground crews couldn’t question her claim, and landed the air craft. “Pappy said that according to very reliable sources that were there at the time, McSally proceeded to berate the “ground folks for putting her into the position.”

But nothing of real consequence happened to the ground crews or McSally. “Pappy” explained that the ultimate responsibility lies with the pilot in command, and had another pilot taken off without gas, they would have had a flight evaluation board hearing. A hearing “could have caused her to lose her wings and take her out of the flying business altogether,” according to “Pappy” but a “higher authority,” protected McSally. “I don’t know how that all broke down. I only know what happened. And that she was grounded for two weeks,” said “Pappy.”

McSally’s campaign is fully loaded with fuel by the GOP this time around. Higher authorities within the GOP have seen that her real challenger; Chuck Wooten, has been starved of fuel, and is only running on the fumes created by an energized grassroots. However, like Bratt against Cantor, money might not carry the day for a candidate without integrity.

Related articles:

McSally history revealed, A-10 pilots speaks out

A-10 pilot exposes GOP’s McSally, “madness pure madness”

McSally FEC filing raises questions about Wooten lawsuit involvement

CD2 forum leaves more McSally questions than answers

McSally’s debate claims subject to debate

Barber, joined by McSally in fight for A-10

Wooten beats McSally camp in court, calls for debates

Candidate challenges filed with Arizona Secretary of State


  1. Spud and others,
    My account of events is factual to the best of my recollection. Ms. McSally’s name never surfaced in all our discussions about this event and now on Facebook Spud states that “What martha related is true with the exception she took over from me not the flight lead (name redacted). A simple mistake.” Attack/fighter pilot’s don’t make those kind of trivial “mistakes.” Either she relieved you or the flight lead you mention (name intentionally left out) or she didn’t, others are being contacted to confirm or deny that…either way, she interjected herself into a tragic event to embellish her unremarkable accomplishments throughout her military career, Did she make Colonel, sure, so did you and I, do you dispute my opinion that the Germany assignment was not a sign of General Officer assessment of her capability to shoulder higher responsibility? You are a retired Colonel, as am I, we both know how those assignments work through the Colonel’s Group at the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC)…the assignment to Bavaria is a great assignment, if you can get it, but one I would call a retirement assignment…good deal, great deal, great pay with little responsibility. I stand by my comments to James T that the CD2 candidate involvement in this event has never been related to me until this sequence of posts. The Facebook entry is a quote from you with the name of the flight lead redacted since he has not chimed in on this sequence of events. In my recollection, she wasn’t there, was in an upgrade status at the Bulldogs, a mission ready fighter pilot not called upon to deploy when the 354 Fighter Squadron needed someone following a tragic event, despite i’s potential consequences to her future designs on advancement in the military, which could easily have been a quick solution to a tragedy of events, On the contrary, I was rushed through the requalification process given minimal upgrade rides to regain Mission Commander status (1 in Tucson, 3 in Kuwait) and leading missions in Southern Iraq within weeks,,,not months or years. Does that decision not speak to the 355 Wing Command structure (Squadron through Wing) assessment of the character and capabilities of the person seeking to represent me in Arizona…I do not support this candidate for a variety of reasons, but principally, because I know her.

  2. Spud,
    I am sorry I cannot let this go. My integrity was called into question, by you. You are a man of great education, the Citadel as I recall, freak civil war historian, so I am somewhat bemused by your improper spelling of the word “misled.” Tell me about the elephant, especially that, your adventures enroute to Kuwait, Did you arrive directly by commercial or Mil-Air? You never called me by my rank, ever, in our association of over 17 years, even though I always outranked you…you always called me Pappy…why the departure now? Just asking…the constituent’s of CD2 in Arizona you are not worried about since your retirement to Texas deserve the truth about the candidate you and I both know very well. The time is short and the residents in CD2 need the truth about the candidates who step forward to represent us in Washington. Lobo 1’s need need be of like mind…Pappy

  3. Because of her behavior, in many instances, it appears that, the bottom line is, it is all about HER, not the people of Arizona. If she became the CD2 choice , you would probably never see her, she would be on her way to bigger and better political career avenues.

  4. Spud,
    I know you to be a man of great integrity, so I will defer to your sequence of events, although they differ greatly, by my recollection, from those related to me almost 17 and a half years ago. Related to me by you, as well as the two other squadron mates on range that night. I stand by all of else, as my position in the squadron offered me insight different from your own and my years of experience definitely qualifies me to judge how I would have responded if I were IP of record for the flight you now say came to relieve you. The remainder of the interview addresses other topics, and I stand by my recollection of those events as well. Mr. Harris was not “misled” he simply asked for my recollection and association with the candidate for a Congressional District I am VERY much interested in and I presented them to the best of my recollection and the opinions offered, are exactly that, my opinion…my opinion developed over the past 20 years. If you wish to rebut those memories which affected you personally, I am happy to continue the conversation…or we can all produce flight records and request a FOIA review of the publically available AIB findings…but that is not the real issue, is it…as a man of integrity I expected better from you…this is about the character of an individual I have 20 years of association with attempting to advance a political career by glorifying participation in a tragic event that occurred over 17 years ago? What is the character of one who would do so?

  5. The more I hear (read) these details of Martha’s Boneyard of Incompetence, the more I’m reminded of a platoon sergeant I served under (U.S. Army) while stationed in Germany in 1964-65. Our common platoon consistently scored lowest in the Headquarters Battery on major inspections, primarily because Mac (yes, believe it or not, his last name really did start with “Mc”….) had our workspace at the base cluttered with gear–and even personal property–that did not belong there. If we got a few hours notice of a pending inspection, we couldn’t spiff the place up easily due to the need to hide all of the sergeant’s junk. As a result, we were known in the unit as “McNally’s Den of Forty Thieves”. Mac just saddled us with way too much baggage.

    And then one day, not unlike what the GOP establishment wants to do with McSally, Mac got promoted and “kicked upstairs”. We got a new platoon sergeant…which the brass was none too sure about, because Sgt. Washington had not had a promotion in ten years. Why? Because he took care of business, took care of his troops, and took very little abuse from anyone lower in rank than Lt. Colonel. The first thing he had us do was clean out everything that was not official T.O.E. (Table of Equipment) as authorized by the Army. Then we painted the section room’s concrete floor so that it could be cleaned up slicker’n a whistle in under an hour. With the baggage gone, our commo platoon immediately jumped up to the first or second best in the unit at every inspection. Sgt. Washington’s first name was not George, but of course that’s what we all called him behind his back–and before long, we were no longer “McNally’s Den of Forty Thieves” but simply “George’s Boys”.

    What’s the parallel? Simply this: If we simply get rid of McSally and all her baggage (hopefully without “kicking her upstairs” even if she does like to talk about kicking folks in the jimmy) and elect Chuck Wooten, We the People of CD2 will have Chucked a bunch of baggage and Wooten’s Warriors will have made a huge difference not only for the District for Arizona as a whole and, in the long run, quite possibly for the nation.

    Tuesday’s coming right up. Let’s get out the vote.

  6. Got sent this site by another A-10 bubba. There are significant inaccuracies with the account relayed by Col (ret) Russell. I will address the only the statements concerning Capt Svoboda. I was the Forward Air Controller on that mission. I saw the last seconds of Capt Svoboda’s life. I took On scene command and other than my wingman, am the only one who knows the full story. To begin…Col (ret) Russell says, “As I said, at that time she was in an upgrade program meaning that even if she was airborne, which none of us recall, and I have contacted each of the individuals that were on the range that night. None of them can recall anything that she reveals in that story as being accurate or truthful.” This is not accurate…what is accurate is Ms McSally was airborne and leading a 4-ship of A-10s on North Tac, the range abutting South Tac. I recall it very clearly and have never said anything to the contrary. Furthermore, Col (ret) Russell has not contacted me in at least the last 8 years and I do not recall speaking to him about this incident since 1997. Other than stating she took over from the flight lead, it was actually myself as the Forward Air Controller, Ms McSally’s account in her post is accurate. I was recently asked via email to deny or verify her account and I verified it. Col Russell was not on that email chain. Next, the quote by Col (ret) Russell, ““The story about going over and taking charge while you were in an upgrade is not believable to somebody with my experience. Therefore, it is my opinion, that that is not accurate,” is an incorrect opinion based on incorrect data. Ms McSally was the flight lead and I did in fact pass on scene command to her while I and my wingman went to the tanker. When we returned, I again assumed on scene command and Ms McSally returned to base. Mr Harris, you were mis lead. Ms McSally did not lie in her post. Your looking for stories that just aren’t there. I don’t care who runs or wins in this race. I’m no longer an AZ resident as I’m retired and live in TX. I do however very much care about the truth being represented. Col (ret) Steve Gray

    • Spud, Spud, Spud it is a good thing you are retired in Texas and you can’t vote for McSally. We all know you are a good friend and supporter of Ms McSally. Personally I will not address her by the rank she was given because it is to represent integrity and honesty and it is clear she posses neither.

  7. McSally has a fire in her belly and never walks by a problem. She calls up McCain as fast as she can to have the GOP send out their attack dogs cover for her. Emil Franzi comes to mind. She doesn’t walk by a problem she immediately calls an attorney and sues. Paying attorneys seems to be her leadership style. She doesn’t walk by a problems she runs as fast as she can from debates with Wooten. Her handlers are smart enough to know she is a weak, inarticulate, and arrogant candidate. She doesn’t walk by a problem but she runs as fast as she can away from her constituents because she has no answers. She merely spouts the same 5 year old talking points provided by the GOP elites. We have a citizen selected candidate in Chuck Wooten. Let’s work hard and celebrate our victory against this recycled GOP crowned carpetbagger. Go get ’em Chief.

  8. I think McSally is nothing more than a bold faced liar. She trots out her military record and experience at every opportunity and I’m sure some of it is embellished. I think she’s afraid if she doesn’t play “Can you top this?” with the other candidates she’ll lose. Judging by her recent actions that’s a distinct possibility.

  9. What was said in the interview is a repeat of two years ago. McSally says she doesn’t walk by a problem, I guess this isn’t a problem because she still hasn’t addressed what was said two years ago. We know her campaign knows about lawyers and legal action because they paid Snell and Wilmer nearly $1900 in June, that is the firm that took Chuck Wooten to court; that case was dismissed.

    As far as I know another problem for her is her not responding to request for appearances at Republican groups since her announcement to run last year. I hear she unexpectedly showed up at a recent LD9 meeting; I hear that didn’t turn out to well for McSally.

    If McSally can’t take the heat from her constituents in the district what makes you think she will be able to stand up for you in what I recently heard referred to as the “Belly of the Beast” that is Washington D.C.

  10. Different people same story on Minnie Mac. All for me and nothing for you. Lord help us all if she is the republican candidate. We will have to keep Ron Barber in office because you know what he will do and that is exactly what Nancy P tells him to do, if he doesn’t forget it.

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