MJ Hegar, Combat Veteran and Author
MJ Hegar fights for the rights of American women, no matter the battleground. From the skies of Afghanistan to the courtrooms of the Pentagon to the halls of Congress, the combat veteran is taking up arms against sexism and creating more opportunities for women.
MJ HEGAR: I've always wanted to be a pilot and I've always wanted to be a combat pilot. So when I say that I should have the right to be in combat, I'm saying that I should be afforded the opportunity to use those skills and to fight and defend and protect the things that I believe in.
I wasn't raised as a military brat, but my dad was in the Air Force. In junior high, when I was playing soccer, I got a little distracted watching an F-16 fly by, and I was like, that is so cool. And then all of a sudden, the ball hit me in the head, so I thought to myself, well, I guess that's my passion.
I reported in to my first commander thinking he would be a mentor. I saluted him, and 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'm going to replace you. Now get out of my office. And I was like, this is a test. This is a test, I'm sure it is. Because nobody actually says things like that, right?
When we got the call to go on my first mission, it was an American soldier, we were told he had a gunshot wound to the arm. When we got there, he had almost completely bled out. And five minutes into it our return flight, our medic was telling us, he's gone.
It was really difficult to go from being excited to get my first pick up to losing an American soldier onboard an aircraft. And I remember-- sorry.
I remember wanting to become a real rescue pilot, and then realizing what that meant, that killed that sensation immediately. So it's not about wanting to be in combat. It's about if combat has to happen, I want to be there to help.
I felt warm, and I saw my aircraft commander's reaction, and I looked down, and sure enough, I had bled all over my arm and my leg. I had about 15 pieces of shrapnel in my arm. The bullet fragmented when it came through, so I had to kind of prove to them, no, no, no, I'm fine, I'm not in shock, I'm fully functional.
After we sort of crash landed, we were receiving a lot of small arms fire, but we didn't know exactly where it was coming from. So I saw somebody came out from the cover to shoot out as. I raised my rifle and started returning fire without any hesitation. I belonged there. I have that warrior spirit, and it came out.
The commanders in the field were having to find loopholes to attach women to units that they could assign women to. There was no doubt women had been in combat for thousands of years, but the last 10 years, women had been proving themselves in combat.
LEON PANETTA: Today, we are eliminating THE direct ground combat exclusion rule for women.
MJ HEGAR: Until we change the culture of women being treated inferior and women being looked at as less than, that culture will continue. And women being allowed to compete for these positions is a big step in that direction. My goal is to open the competition to woman. And any woman who can hack it should be given the opportunity to serve her country in the way that her heart and her soul is telling her to, just like the men, and answer that calling.