Mary Jennings Hegar On ‘Shoot Like A Girl… by Uinterview

Mary Jennings Hegar, an Air Force veteran, has penned a memoir Shoot Like A Girl about her life in the line of fire, which even included exchanging fire with the Talban. “On a Medevac mission, we went out to a convoy that had hit an IAD, to pick up three American soldiers who were wounded,” Hegar told uInterview in an exclusive video interview. “When we picked them up, we received a lot of damage from the ground forces there.”

“We tried to lift to get the patients back to safety. But aircraft was so damaged that we ended up doing a hard landing / crash about two miles away and then defending our perimeter against enemy ground forces for about 20 minutes while we were waiting for exfiltration,” Hegar continued.

Hegar was courageous as ever as she stood on the enemy grounds.

“I was actually really happy that I was the one there,” the author noted. “The hardest thing in that kind of situation, the person you don’t want to be, is the one back in the operation seminar listening to the whole thing unfold on the radio. And listening to your brothers and sisters being out in enemy territory and not being able to help… So I was happy to be there to defend them.”

In 1999, Hegar was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force through ROTC at The University of Texas, her alma mater. In 2004, she was selected for pilot training by the Air National Guard, and upon completion of training at the top of her class, she served three tours in Afghanistan flying Combat Search, as well as Medevac missions. She has received numerous military awards, including 2008 California Aviator of the Year, Purple Heart award, National Defense Service Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

Mary Jennings Hegar Video Interview On ‘Shoot Like A Girl’

Her forthcoming memoir, Shoot Like A Girl, chronicles her harrowing military career, and tells the true story of a brave, high-spirited and unforgettable woman who spent much of her life ready to sacrifice herself for others.

 

In 2012, a lawsuit was filed against the Pentagon to knock down gender barriers in the U.S. armed forces. The Pentagon had failed to integrate their ranks, despite U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter‘s announcement that women will be allowed in all combat positions in the military. This was intended to end the decades of exclusion of females from frontline jobs. Hegar decided to join the lawsuit as a lead plaintiff. “It helps me feel like things have a design and that things happen for a reason, which I never used to feel before,” Hegar said.

“My daughter came to me in tears, she was eleven years old, she had told me before that she had wanted to be a marine. And she came to me one day in tears and said that somebody had told her she couldn’t do that job because it was a boy’s job. and she asked me why I didn’t tell her that,” the author continued. “I told her that that’s not true. I knew a lot of really amazing, strong female marines. And I told her that I was sorry that that was the culture that would tell her that, and that I would do something about it… The very next day, I get a phone call from the ACLU  asking me to take part in the lawsuit. And it was an easy ‘yes’ for me.”

Hegar also dispelled misconceptions about women, both in her memoir and in her daily life.

“I think it’s a huge misconception that the “warrior’s spirit” and having a “warrior’s heart” is an exclusively male trait, and that women are supposed to be nurturers,” she said. “I had somebody ask me once, what it was like to be a mother, and did that conflict with my warrior spirit… I think it absolutely comes from the same exact place.”

“I’ve gone into battle with men and women, some men who I would take a bullet for who are amazing, and some men whom I would refuse to go into combat with again because of the way they maintained themselves,” Hegar said. “And women, there were women who clearly didn’t belong in  a combat zone and then there were women who were warriors who I would go into combat with on my wing any day.”

In 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the military’s official ban on women in combat, much to the jubilation of those who had been fighting for equality in the armed forces.

“I was ecstatic,” Hegar said. “I was confident that Leon Panetta and most of our military senior leaders wanted to repeal this policy… He lifted that policy in response to my lawsuit, another lawsuit, and the unanimous recommendation of his joint chief of staff. So it was very validating for me that I felt like we were all on the same page and all trying to do the right thing for the military.”

Hegar is hopeful that President Donald Trump will not reverse that decision.  “I hope not. I think that Secretary Mattis, from what I can tell of him, he seems to be an amazing military leader that will do a great job as Secretary of Defense.”

Hager believes that both Mattis and Trump could derive some benefit from reading her book.

“I do think that if one of them, or both of them pick up my book, that’ll inform their experience with women in combat a little more, and that’s part of the reasons I wrote the book,” she said. “I had a responsibility to tell this story, specifically for that reason, to inform the national conversation and show what women can do in combat.”

Her memoir Shoot Like a Girl is available now from Penguin Berkley Caliber.


Q: How did you end up in armed conflict with the Taliban? -

On a Medevac mission, we went out to a convoy that had hit an IAD, to pick up three American soldiers who were wounded. When we picked them up, we received a lot of damage from the ground forces there. We tried to lift to get the patients back to safety. But aircraft was so damaged that we ended up doing a hard landing / crash about two miles away and then defending our perimeter against enemy ground forces for about twenty minutes while we were waiting for exfiltration.

Q: What were you feeling in that moment? -

I have to be honest with you, I feel like it makes me sound silly to say this, but I have to be completely transparent and honest that I was actually really happy that I was the one there. The other people who were on the ground with me that day were very near and dear to my heart. And the hardest thing in that kind of situation, the person you don't want to be, is the one back in the operation seminar listening to the whole thing unfold on the radio. And listening to your brothers and sisters being out in enemy territory and not being able to help. So I was actually really happy that I was there. This is my calling, it's something that I maintained my composure and at all times really felt like it was where I was supposed to be. So I was happy to be there to defend them.

Q: Why did you join the lawsuit against the Pentagon? -

It helps me feel like things have a design and that things happen for a reason, which I never used to feel before all these things started happening. She came to me in tears, she was eleven years old, she had told me before that she had wanted to be a marine. And we used to do pushups together and that type of thing to prepare her. And she came to me one day in tears and said that somebody had told her she couldn't do that job because it was a boy's job. and she asked me why I didn't tell her that. Well first of all, even if it had been a boy's job, I would never tell her that. Because my parents never told me that I couldn't be a pilot because that was a boy's job. I told her that that's not true. I knew a lot of really amazing, strong female marines. And I told her that I was sorry that that was the culture that would tell her that, and that I would do something about it. I didn't know what yet, but I was going to do something about it. And as I pondered what I could possibly do, the very next day, I get a phone call from the ACLU asking me to take part in the lawsuit. And it was an easy 'yes' for me.

Q: What's the biggest misconception about women in combat? -

I think it's a huge misconception that the "warrior's spirit" and having a "warrior's heart" is an exclusively male trait, and that women are supposed to be nurturers. I had somebody ask me once, what it was like to be a mother, and did that conflict with my warrior spirit. And I think it absolutely comes from the same exact place. So I think it's a misconception that it has to do with gender. I've gone into battle with men and women, some men who I would take a bullet for who are amazing, and some men whom I would refuse to go into combat with again because of the way they maintained themselves. And women, there were women who clearly didn't belong in a combat zone and then there were women who were warriors who I would go into combat with on my wing any day. So that's definitely the biggest misconception.

Q: How did you feel when you heard Leon Panetta's decision? -

I was ecstatic. But all along, I never felt like this was a me versus the Pentagon type of thing. I was confident that Leon Panetta and most of our military senior leaders wanted to repeal this policy. The policy was actually very hurtful to military effectiveness. It tied the hands of the commanders in the field who needed to put women in these roles. But in order for him to repeal the policy, you know, he needed to have tangible reasons against the people who would criticize him for being overly PC or something like that. He lifted that policy in response to my lawsuit, another lawsuit, and the unanimous recommendation of his joint chief of staff. So it was very validating for me that I felt like we were all on the same page and all trying to do the right thing for the military.

Q: Are you concerned that Trump will reverse the decision? -

I hope that the train has left the station on this. We've already got people who graduated from infantry courses and proven that they can meet the very high standards for combat roles. So I hope not. I think that Secretary Mattis, from what I can tell of him, he seems to be an amazing military leader that will do a great job as Secretary of Defense. He's made some comments in the past that show that he has some concerns, and that's healthy and that's fine. But I do think that if one of them, or both of them pick up my book, that'll inform their experience with women in combat a little more, and that's part of the reasons I wrote the book. It wasn't an easy book to write, but it was brought to my attention that I had a responsibility to tell this story, specifically for that reason, to inform the national conversation and show what women can do in combat.

Q: What influenced your decision to join the military? -

I never thought that it did, my mom got us out of that situation when I was seven, and then I met my stepfather, who I consider my dad, who raised me. But my biological father was incredibly physically, mentally and emotionally abusive, to us, mostly to my mom and my bigger sister. I describe in the book sitting and feeling helpless while I watched that happen, and I never wanted to be that helpless again. And I do think, after doing some of these media events and getting that question, I've had to do some reflection, and it really did help shape who I am today. And maybe that's what stoked the warrior spirit in my chest. It made me want to help anybody who was the victim of any kind of violence, so becoming a rescue pilot was a natural thing for me to do.

Q: Why did you include the story of abuses inside the military? -

That's another tough story to talk about, but it was really important to include, because a lot of people who are opposed to allowing women in to combat positions like to say that they think it will increase the occurrence of sexual assault. I was sexually assaulted. And usually people say, "See? You were thrown into combat, and you were sexually assaulted." And I'd like to point out that it was before I was a pilot. I was an aircraft maintenance officer. I was stationed, working on the B2, and I was nowhere near combat. It's not a combat versus support epidemic. It's an epidemic where there's a culture of entitlement and abusive power sometimes. It's a very very small faction of people who perpetuate these crimes, but we have to stop the culture of tolerance, and so we have to talk about it.

Q: What projects are you working on now? -

I partnered with the University of Texas, which is my alma mater, the McCombs Business School, and I teach media training to executives, I am an executive coach, but I also work for Dell Computers. My husband and I both work for Dell Computers. Because we live in Crown Rock, and most people who live there, which is just north of Austin, work for Dell Computers. It's a really great company to work for. So I continue speaking, I go around the country speaking about this. Because again, it's important to inform the conversation about what women can do. It's really applicable to you know, leadership in places like Dell. You know, being able to utilize diverse teams and find everybody's strengths.