Amy McGrath, Former U.S. Marine, Congressional Candidate in Kentucky
When Amy McGrath was a girl, a congressman told her that women shouldn’t be in combat. Fast-forward 200 flight hours and 89 missions later and McGrath has helped change the perception of women serving in the military. Now she’s bringing that fighting spirit to the voting booth and running for Kentucky's 6th congressional district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Amy McGrath, Former U.S. Marine, Congressional Candidate in Kentucky
Diane Carlson Evans, Army Nurse & Founder of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project
AMY MCGRATH: A lot of times you're going as a fighter pilot, you go up in the air and you're waiting for something to happen. The other times, it can be quite scary. Flying a fighter jet is the most intense job you can do on the planet.
I grew up in Kentucky. Youngest of three children. My mother was a medical doctor, and that was very rare. This was the 1980s. And I was always very proud of her. So when she wasn't there at night because she was on call, I would just say, well, mom's saving lives.
I was very much a tomboy who just wanted to play sports. I have an older brother who would be one of the captains, and he would always pick me first. And all of his friends would say, why are you picking a girl? And he would say, well, she's the best player. I knew that if I was beating all the boys in football or basketball, that there was nothing I couldn't do.
He wrote me back a very nice letter that was fairly condescending, which basically said, you're a girl, and Congress doesn't believe that women should be doing these things. And I said, well, so what? You know, they just haven't met me yet. I can do this.
So I wasn't deterred. Pat Schroeder was a Congresswoman at the time. She was considered so radical. And what she said was, the military of our nation exists to fight and win the nation's wars. And we should have the best people in those positions. Stick to your dreams. I'm working on it.
The executive officer comes in and looks at me and looks around the room and says, we've got to put you in a jet. And I had just barely gotten my qualification. So we suited up, pulled out into the runway with six air-to-air missiles loaded up to possibly launch and shoot down an airliner. Thank god we didn't have to shoot anyone down.
I think that 9/11 changed the mindset of all of us. It was on. This is what we had trained for. We were going to go into combat. Our job was necessary, and I was prepared.
The Marine Corps was the toughest thing a woman could do in the military. And that is exactly what I wanted. I remember going into Afghanistan and looking out at the men who were working and having them look at me-- and the wonder in their eyes. And they had never seen a woman who was treated with the same type of respect as all the other Marines, a woman as an equal. When you go to these other countries, especially as a woman, and you're just doing your job, that's showing people American values. That's changing minds.
My commanding officer pulled me in and told me, and my heart just stopped. I thought to myself, all right. I worked my whole life to do this. Flying, itself, is dangerous. You have to make sometimes life and death decisions when it comes to ordnance. When you can come through with putting the bombs on target on time, that's when you know your training and your work mattered.
Now we have all of these former military women running for Congress. Well, it's about time. We see what's happening in our government. We basically say, I fought for my country, and I am a woman, and I'm not going to stand for that. Is it going to be easy? No, it's going to be a challenge. And I love that. I mean, that's me. That's what Marines do. I don't want to be there just to fill a seat. I want to make a difference.
JILL CHAMBERS: There has been, really, throughout the ages of the military, a real stigma attached to a mental disorder. You look weak. If you can't control your mind, oh my goodness, what kind of a person are you?
My father was career military, Air Force. I mean, as far back as I can remember, I really, I was daddy's girl. What really appealed to me from my father was the way that he could talk about how he could take care of people. When I told my father I wanted to go into the military, I said, "And you know, I'm going to outrank you," which got a lot of laughs. I mean, that was completely unheard of for women. But he said, "You just go right ahead."
Fast-forward to my daughter now, who's a captain in the Army following in my footsteps, she's declared that she wants to outrank me. And good for her. She will be a general. She absolutely will.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I'm in my office up on the second floor. Sergeant Lobo was on the phone with a woman down on the first floor. And she hung up the phone real slowly, and she said, "Ma'am, I was just talking to Mildred, and something went terribly wrong." And as soon as that happened, you know, well, then all of a sudden, we see people just flying by our offices.
We got out of the doors, and I remember, we just looked up, and you could just see the black-- you could touch the black smoke. It was just surreal. It was completely surreal. A lot of my friends, a lot of longtime friends, lost their lives inside the Pentagon. The next day, we had to go back to work. There were things to do.
Really, from then on, it was the nightmares. You know, burning aircraft, of course, over and over again, year after year. But it became the norm. I had no idea that I was even in that category of having any PTS. And my goodness gracious, I sure wasn't going to talk to anybody about it.
I would spend days with these service members and begin to ask them and let them share with me, really, what's going on? This young 19-year-old shared with me that his first day on the job in Iraq was a mass casualty of Iraqi civilians. It went downhill from there. And really hearing nightmares, not sleeping well, on lots of medication, and just really having a hard time fitting back in.
But what's happening is that nobody wants to talk about it. Because each one of these service members that I spoke with were very clear about, please don't tell my bosses. So it only takes a couple of times to start listening to that and like, OK, I think, I think we have a problem here. And there were a lot of leaders that said, "Oh, no, no, no. We can't talk about this. It makes us look weak." And this is in 2008. I said, "Yeah, but now we're going to talk about it."
I said, "OK, we have one shot. It's time to do this." I was able to fly all these gentlemen in. They had a meeting with General Casey, the Chief of Staff of the Army at the time. And the very afternoon after General Casey had met with them, he sends a massive email that says, "We're going to start talking about PTS," which was just amazing.
And thus was born, over the next year, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, which is actually bringing our service members in, really to educate them, how to deal with adversity through resiliency, and having the tools-- these non-pharmaceutical tools-- that can actually help you. And we've seen senior leaders that have really stepped up and said, "Hey, you know what? I'm having problems, too."
There's things that I don't want to forget. But there are things that need to have a place to be able to move forward and to help others, to be a voice when no one was speaking up about invisible wounds. And that's what I'm most proud of, the opportunity to step in there at that moment in time and push this forward.