Sen. Martha McSally from Arizona delivered the first keynote address during the National Discussion on Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment at America's Colleges, Universities, and Service Academies, which took place at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, April 4-5.

A 1988 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, McSally is a retired colonel, the first woman fighter pilot to fly in combat, and the first woman to command a fighter squadron. She has also been a victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Many were shocked to learn that someone with McSally's professional accomplishments and her self-described feistiness is also a survivor of sexual assault.

While McSally entered the Air Force Academy for a college education and to make her family proud, she also wanted to escape from a sexually predatory high school track coach. She encountered more of the same, though, after becoming an active-duty officer.

McSally said these experiences actually became a part of what strengthened her and gave her "more resolve to fight for others, to stop these things from happening."

It wasn't until recently that she spoke publicly of her military sexual assault. It occurred during one of the most public venues imaginable--a recent Senate Armed Services Committee meeting. McSally said she decided to disclose her assault because she "wanted to be an inspiration to people who've been through this and to offer them some hopeā€¦. The good Lord has given me a voice and an opportunity to be a leader on this issue."

McSally offers this advice to survivors of sexual violence: "You've been robbed of everything. Don't let them rob you of today."

In addition to a voice and opportunity, she also has a unique perspective on topics such as sexual assault and harassment in colleges, universities and service academies, as well as commanders retaining Uniform Code of Military Justice disposition authority over felony cases such as sexual assault.
However, unlike many vocal politicians who have garnered headlines when it comes to military sexual assault, she's in favor of commanders retaining UCMJ disposition authority. "We need to have commanders more involved in these cases, not less involved," McSally said.

She reiterated her commitment to working with military leaders as part of a recently announced Sexual Assault Task Force to find ways to better inform and equip commanders with the tools to respond to incidents of sexual assault. The intent is to have recommendations ready for the markup of the Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

The service secretaries said they envision this collaborative spirit will also continue for those who gathered in Annapolis for the National Discussion. The services have committed to continue working together with colleges and universities -- those who were in attendance as well as those who were unable to make the forum -- to cultivate a network of senior leaders, experts and dynamic thinkers who will continue the dialogue toward the goal of eliminating sexual misconduct at institutions of higher education.

The Army is scheduled to host next year's National Discussion at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Dr. James A. Helis, director of the Army SHARP, Ready, & Resilient Directorate, said the Army will reach out to everyone with a "save the date" announcement soon, as well as ideas on how to continue information sharing and collaboration between now and next year's event.