MJ Hegar, US Air Force Pilot
MJ Hegar talks about taking on 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.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: One story would center on an Air National Guard helicopter pilot named MJ Hegar, who flew over 100 search and rescue missions in Afghanistan.
MJ HEGAR: On my third tour in Afghanistan, we launched on a medivac to a convoy who had hit an IED and was under ambush. There were three urgent American casualties that we were trying to get out of there.
As we came in, I took a round through the copilot's windshield that fragmented into several pieces, and I got injured in my arm and leg. Even though there was a lot of blood, we just had to pick up our patients and get out of there.
But as soon as we landed, we realized pretty quickly that we weren't going to make it all the way back home. The aircraft was too badly hurt. So the patients exfiltrated on our sister ship, and got out.
We were taking a lot of small arms fire, but we didn't know where it was coming from. And then these two little two-seaters came in. So I jump on the skid, and as we were lifting off, I can see where the enemy is.
So I raised my rifle and started returning fire without any hesitation. I have that warrior spirit, and it came out. 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.
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.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: In 2012, MJ Hegar became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ground combat exclusion policy
NATALIE MORALES: A new challenge to the Pentagon's ban on women serving in combat. Four female service members have filed a lawsuit for the right to fight, saying the policy as it stands now blocks them from advancements that are open to men who serve in combat.
MJ HEGAR: My commander said, well, do you feel like you've been discriminated against. And I was like, well, it's not about that, sir. It's about the fact that I've medivaced so many women out of combat zones, and they're not getting credit for having served in combat. That's why it's time to repeal this policy.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: In January 2013, once and for all, the military aligned its policy with the realities on the ground.
LEON PANETTA: Today, General Dempsey and I are pleased to announce that we are eliminating the direct ground combat exclusion rule for women, and we are moving forward with a plan to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.
GINA BENNETT: Women have been involved in war since the beginning of this nation, and we're still trying to get society to just accept that women have the same calling to securing their nation as men. It is no different.