During her third tour in Afghanistan, Air National Guard pilot Mary Jennings Hegar found herself caught in the crossfire after her Blackhawk helicopter was shot down, leaving her bloody with shrapnel from the windshield embedded in her arm and leg. Still, Hegar stood her ground.
"I raised my rifle and started returning fire without any hesitation," recalls Hegar of the 2009 search and rescue mission during which she led a convoy to safety amidst the attack and earned a Purple Heart for her efforts. "I have that warrior spirit, and it came out."
That warrior spirit emerged, guns blazing again, in 2012 when she filed suit against the U.S. Secretary of Defense, claiming she had limited opportunities to serve in the U.S. military due to the combat exclusion policy which prevented women from serving alongside men in active war zones. Again Hegar stood her ground—and won.
"When people tell me that women shouldn't be in combat because they'll never be accepted into the band of brothers, I think about that [mission]," Hegar tells MAKERS in an exclusive interview. "The fact that I had been a proven combat warrior, somebody who can keep their calm while the bullets are flying, someone who is a competent person, who pulls their weight, I should be afforded the opportunity to use those skills and to fight and defend and protect the things that I believe in."
Now that Hegar has fiercely fought on the front lines for the rights of American women abroad in Afghanistan and at home in the Pentagon, she hopes to take up arms on a new battleground: Congress.
Hegar joins the historic Pink Wave of women candidates as a congressional hopeful in the 31st District of Texas, a traditionally conservative seat. Once considered a sleeper candidate, the mom of five surprised Democrats and Republicans alike with a biographical campaign video that quickly went viral after its June 20 debut.
The three-minute ad follows Hegar's journey to the ballot, which is defined by doors—doors closed on her while seeking support in her fight against the Pentagon, doors she busted open for women serving in combat, and the door she'd like to see her opponent, U.S. Representative John Carter, walk out of as she assumes his place in Congress.
"We'll show him tough. And then, we'll show him the door," the war vet says in the campaign ad, which already has two million clicks and counting.
"I think that part of the reason it's been so well-received is because the message resonates with people," Hegar told CNN. "A lot of people across the country feel like they have absent representation and that their voices are not being heard."
Learn more about how Hegar battled for women's equality in the U.S. military here and find out how women have always played an important role in combat in MAKERS Women in War documentary.