MJ Hegar, Combat Veteran and Author

Why She’s a MAKER: Combat veteran MJ Hegar has fiercely fought on the front lines for the rights of American women abroad in Afghanistan and at home in the Pentagon— and won. Overseas, the former Air National Guard pilot saved the lives of countless soldiers on the battlefield and earned a Purple Heart for her efforts. At home, she combated sexism in the armed forces by helping repeal the Combat Exclusion Policy, opening up 200,000 positions for women in combat.

Eyes on the Skies: After graduating from the University of Texas, MJ Hegar was commissioned into the Air Force to pursue her dreams of becoming a pilot. Knowing that less than 20 percent of Air Force officers become pilots, Hegar accepted a position in aircraft maintenance anyways. Despite facing discrimination as a woman, Hegar persevered and was accepted to one of the most elite pilot training groups in the Air Force. “I reported into my first commander thinking he would be a mentor and I saluted him. He didn’t even look me in the eye and said, 'The first time that your time of the month gets in the way of your job I am going to replace you and now get out of my office.'""

Warrior Spirit: After completing her pilot training, Hegar was deployed to Afghanistan as a search and rescue helicopter pilot. Although the military did not recognize her role as a combat position, Hegar was often caught in the crossfire on the battlefield—and she fought back. “I raised my rifle and started returning fire without any hesitation. I belonged there. I have that warrior spirit and it came out.”

Combatting Sexism at Home: When Hegar decided she wanted to fight for the rights of the American people abroad, she faced barriers from a sexist military policy at home: the Combat Exclusion Policy. In 2013, Hegar and the ACLU successfully fought to repeal the ban, opening up 200,000 combat positions for women in the armed forces. “Any woman who can hack it should be given the opportunity to serve her country in the way her heart and her soul is telling her to like the men and answer that calling.”

A New Battleground: Now, Hegar hopes to take up arms on a new battleground: Congress. The veteran is taking on a 15-year male incumbent for a congressional seat in Texas’ 31st District this November. “Until we change the culture of women being treated inferior and women being looked at as less than, then that culture will continue.”

MJ Hegar lost her bid for Congress during the 2018 midterm elections.