MJ Hegar

Last updated
MJ Hegar
Personal details
Mary Ottilie von Stein

(1976-03-16) March 16, 1976 (age 43)
Connecticut, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Brandon Hegar(m. 2011)
Education University of Texas at Austin (BA, MBA)
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Air Force.svg  United States Air Force
Years of service1999–2011
Rank US-O4 insignia.svg Major

Mary Jennings Hegar ( née von Stein; [1] born 1976) is an American politician, Air Force veteran, businesswoman, and teacher. [2] In 2017, she published the memoir Shoot Like a Girl, which describes her service in Afghanistan. [3] She also sued the Air Force to remove the Combat Exclusion Policy. [4] [5] In July 2017, she announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for United States House of Representatives to Texas's 31st congressional district. After winning the nomination, [6] she was defeated by 3% by incumbent Republican John Carter. [7] On April 23, 2019, Hegar announced her intention to challenge incumbent United States Senator John Cornyn.


Early life and education

When she was 7 years old, Hegar's mother, Grace, moved her and her sister from Fairfield, Connecticut to Cedar Park, Texas. [3] :16 Hegar grew up in Cedar Park, [8] where her mother remarried a Vietnam veteran, David Jennings, when she was 10 years old. [3] :14–15

Hegar attended Faubion Elementary School in Cedar Park and graduated from Leander High School in Leander, Texas. [9] She was class president, was on the cheer squad, and played various sports including soccer. [10]

In 1999, Hegar received a BA from the University of Texas at Austin where she studied criminology, sociology, philosophy, and world religions. [1] While an undergraduate, she was Vice Wing Commander of Detachment 825 AFROTC and Deputy Commander, Arnold Air Society. In 2015, she graduated from Leadership Austin Essential Class. [11] In 2016 she received an Executive MBA, also from the University of Texas at Austin. [12]

Military education



In December 1999, Hegar was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force through ROTC at the University of Texas. From April 2000 to March 2004, she served on active duty as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer. She was initially stationed at Misawa Air Force Base in Misawa, Aomori, in the northern part of the island of Honshū of Japan. She was also stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Missouri, about an hour east-southeast of Kansas City, Missouri. At Whiteman, Hegar worked on the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the B-2 Stealth Bomber. Her maintenance career culminated in responsibility for 75% of all B-2 maintenance as a Captain and selection as the Company Grade Officer of the Year for 2003.

In 2004, Hegar was selected for pilot training by the Air National Guard. Upon completion of her training at the top of her class, she served two deployments to Afghanistan, flying Combat Search and Rescue [13] on over 100 missions [14] as well as Medevac missions as a helicopter pilot. [15] [16] [17] As a member of the California Air National Guard, she worked as a pilot and trainer at the San Jose, California-based Counterdrug Task Force from 2007 to 2011.

In addition to the deployments to Afghanistan during the Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan, Hegar flew marijuana eradication missions, wildfire suppression with buckets of water on cargo slings, performed pilot duties in evacuating survivors from hurricane-devastated cities, and rescued many civilians on civil search and rescue missions in California and at sea. [3]

On July 29, 2009, on her third tour to Afghanistan, Hegar, who went by the call sign Pedro 15, [18] was shot down on a Medevac mission near Kandahar and sustained wounds during a conflict with the Taliban. [19] She was operating as a combat search and rescue helicopter co-pilot on loan to the U.S. Army for the Medevac mission. Taliban ground forces shot at the helicopter, which disabled her helicopter, and wounded her with shrapnel in her arm and leg. Although injured, Hegar and her pilot were able to rescue the soldiers but under further heavy fire, the helicopter was forced to conduct an emergency landing. U.S. Army helicopter were able to rescue her, her team, and the other soldiers, but because the rescue helicopter was full, she and others had to fly out on holding on to the wheel of the Blackhawk. On the way up out of the area, she saw insurgents and returned fire towards the area where she saw muzzle flashes, demonstrating her excellent marksmanship. [20] [21]

Hegar was awarded the Purple Heart in December 2009. [17] Her actions on this mission earned her the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device in 2011. [22] She was one of the few women to receive this medal after Amelia Earhart. [18] [23] In 2016, she described a 2007 mission to medevac a child in great detail in a TEDx Talks presentation. [24]

Due to the restriction of the Combat Exclusion Policy on women applying for ground combat positions, and because she was medically disqualified from flying due to a serious back injury sustained during the 2009 mission, [25] Hegar transitioned out of the Air National Guard and became a Reservist Liaison. [4]

Other work

Hegar relocated to Austin in 2010 and worked as a program manager at Seton Healthcare Family, a position she held until 2015. From 2015 to 2017, she worked at Dell Computers as a consultant. [10]

Hegar has taught at the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business as well as at UT in the ROTC and Women's Studies departments. She has mentored cadets at the university [26] and has served on the AFROTC Advisory Committee.

Hegar has worked as an executive coach and consultant. She writes and speaks publicly about her experiences in the military and her fight to put women in combat, which she calls “equality”, and claims will increase military readiness.[ citation needed ]


In March 2017, Hegar's memoir, Shoot Like a Girl, was published by the Berkley Books imprint of Penguin Books, in a new military division called Caliber. [20] In 2016, it was announced that the movie rights to the book were optioned by TriStar Pictures, with Angelina Jolie reportedly in negotiations for the lead role. [27] [28]


On July 6, 2017, Hegar announced that she would be running to be the Democratic nominee for the United States Representative in Texas's 31st congressional district. [2] She won the Democratic nomination. [6] She was defeated by 3% by incumbent John Carter in the November 2018 elections. She said that she thinks the political leaders for this district need to be more reflective of the population served, and notes that the district has more military personnel living there than in 97% of the districts in the rest of the country. [29]

In June 2018, Hegar released a short form political ad called "Doors" that described her career in the military, which included her being shot down in Afghanistan. [30] The video went viral and drew the attention of celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda. [29] [31] [32]

Combat Exclusion Policy

Shortly after the mission where Hegar was wounded in Afghanistan, due to the military's Combat Exclusion Policy, while she had not been previously barred from air combat as a pilot, she was medically disqualified from flying. She was automatically excluded from applying for combat positions that would have moved her military career forward. [23] She was barred from cross-training for a ground combat position (like a special tactics officer) despite her expertise as a pilot, which had it not been for her gender would have been a next step. [18] [33]

In 2012, Hegar was the lead plaintiff alongside former U.S. Marine Corps Captain Zoe Bedell, U.S. Marine Corps First Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, U.S. Army Reserves Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt, and the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) in a legal suit filed against the then U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asserting that the Combat Exclusion Policy was unconstitutional. [18] [34] [35] Hegar said that the suit was about military effectiveness and would provide a larger pool of applicants to the military commanders. [20] The assertion was not upheld, but the policy, implemented in 1994, was repealed in January 2013 for political reasons. [14] [36] [37]

Personal life

In 2011, Hegar married Brandon Hegar, who she knew from high school. She and her family live in Round Rock, Texas, a town outside of Austin, Texas. [31] She has two sons as well as stepchildren from her husband's prior marriage. [20] [24]

Hegar has many tattoos, which were prominently featured in her 2018 viral campaign ad video, "Doors." [38] She told Megyn Kelly during an interview on the Today Show that the cherry blossom tattoo on her shoulder was a way to cover up the shrapnel scar tissue that she had there, an idea to take control and make those wounds beautiful. [23] [39] The video also featured the domestic violence by her father that she and her mother and sister experienced when she was young. [40] [41]

Honors and awards

Works and publications

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  1. 1 2 "Heritage Honor Wall: Capt Mary (von Stein) Jennings, Class of 1999, Combat Pilot, HH-60G Pave Hawk & Purple Heart Winner". Department of Air Force Science, University of Texas at Austin . 11 December 2009.
  2. 1 2 Svitek, Patrick (6 July 2017). "Military hero MJ Hegar launches Democratic bid against U.S. Rep. John Carter". Texas Tribune .
  3. 1 2 3 4 Hegar, Mary Jennings (2016). Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman's Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front. New York: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. ISBN   978-1-101-98845-9. OCLC   935676913.
  4. 1 2 3 "Mary Jennings Hegar, Jennifer Hunt, Alexandra Zoe Bedell, Colleen Farrell, and Service Women's Action Network v. Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense. Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief" (PDF). American Civil Liberties Union . 27 November 2012.
  5. Worrall, Simon (26 March 2017). "Female Helicopter Pilot Took on the Taliban—and the Pentagon". National Geographic .
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  9. Crystal, Whiting [@cgw1968] (19 May 2018). "To all my friends and family from the Leander area. MJ is one of us, from Faubian elementary to Leander High School. She is one hell of a woman. Let's put her in Congress. She is in the runoff Tuesday. Let's do this. @mjhegar" (Tweet) via Twitter.
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  13. Tedeschi, Diane (April 2017). "She Just Wanted to Fly". Air & Space Magazine . National Air and Space Museum.
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  22. 1 2 Green, Senior Airman Jessica (9 November 2011). "Heroes recognized for lives saved". Air National Guard .
  23. 1 2 3 Kelly, Megyn; Hegar, Mary Jennings (22 March 2018). "Veteran Opens Up About Her Career And Running For Congress" (Video interview). The Today Show . NBC News.
  24. 1 2 Hagar, Mary Jennings (28 April 2016). "Follow Your Heart Because It Knows You Best: Major Mary Jennings "MJ" Hegar at TEDxGreatHillsWomen" (Video). TEDx Talks .
  25. "Meet the hero vet who fought the Taliban while battling sexism". New York Post . 12 March 2017.
  26. Campos, Michael (30 November 2010). "My First Combat Dining-In" (PDF). The Longhorn Airman. AFROTC Detachment 825 – The University of Texas at Austin. IV: 7.
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  29. 1 2 News Anchor; Hegar, MJ (25 June 2018). "Veteran candidate's ad for Congress goes viral" (Video interview). CNN .
  30. Hegar, MJ (20 June 2018). "MJ Hegar - Doors" (Short video political ad). MJ Hegar for Texas.
  31. 1 2 Cohrs, Rachel (25 June 2018). "Texas Democratic U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar's life story as campaign ad goes viral". Dallas News .
  32. Walsh, Michael (26 June 2018). "Democrat's viral campaign video could be trouble for tea party Republican in deep-red Texas". Yahoo! News .
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  38. Zernike, Kate (14 July 2018). "Forget Suits. Show the Tattoo. Female Candidates Are Breaking the Rules". The New York Times .
  39. Recio, Maria (9 December 2017). "M.J. Hegar isn't your father's congressional candidate. Here's why". Austin American-Statesman .
  40. Tiefenthäler, Ainara; Zernike, Kate; Buhre, Maea Lenei; Tabrizy, Nilo (14 July 2018). "These Ads Reveal How Women Candidates Are Changing Campaigns" (Video). The New York Times .
  41. Cottle, Michelle (26 June 2018). "Opinion: Democrats Appealing to the Heart? Yes, Please". The New York Times .
  42. "129th Outstanding Airmen of the Year, Officer and AFA award winners announced". 129th Rescue Wing, Air National Guard . 30 November 2009. Aviator: Capt. Mary Jennings, 129th RQS
  43. "The Leading Global Thinkers of 2013: Mary Jennings Hegar, Zoe Bedell, Colleen Farrell, and Jennifer Hunt - For shattering the brass ceiling". Foreign Policy . 2013.
  44. "Master's Graduates Urged to Never Give Up". Merrimack College . 20 May 2017.
  45. Hegar, Mary Jennings (29 April 2018). "Exceptional Service Award: Mary Jennings Hegar - Red and White Ball 2018" (Video). American Red Cross Metro New York North.

Further reading