Amy McGrath

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Amy McGrath
Personal details
Born (1975-06-03) June 3, 1975 (age 44)
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Political partyIndependent (before 2017)
Democratic (2017–present)
Erik Henderson (m. 2009)
EducationUnited States Naval Academy (BS)
Johns Hopkins University (MA)
WebsiteCampaign website
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Marine Corps
Years of service1997–2017
RankUS-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel

Amy M. McGrath is an American former Marine fighter pilot and political candidate. She was the first female Marine Corps pilot to fly the F/A-18 on a combat mission.[1][2] McGrath served for 20 years in the Marine Corps during which time she flew 89 combat missions bombing al-Qaeda and the Taliban.[3][4] In 2016, she was inducted into the Aviation Museum of Kentucky's Hall of Fame and her military story is described in Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq.[5]

McGrath was the Democratic nominee for Kentucky's 6th congressional district in the 2018 election, narrowly losing to Republican incumbent Andy Barr.[6] In July 2019, she announced her campaign to run for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in the 2020 elections.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

McGrath was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She grew up in Edgewood, Kentucky, just outside of Covington, the youngest of three children. She has an older sister and brother.[8][9] Her father, Donald McGrath, was a retired teacher who taught high school English in Cincinnati for 40 years.[5] Her mother, Marianne McGrath, is a psychiatrist[5] who was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Kentucky's medical school.[10][5]

McGrath attended St. Pius X Middle School, a Catholic school in Edgewood.[5] In 1993, McGrath graduated from the all girls Catholic high school Notre Dame Academy where she played high school varsity soccer, basketball, baseball, and was captain of the soccer team her senior year.[8] In her senior year, she received a superintendent's discretionary appointment to the United States Naval Academy, the same year Congress lifted the Combat Exclusion Policy which banned women from becoming fighter pilots.[5]

In 1997, McGrath graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in political science.[1][11] While at the Academy as a senior, McGrath was Midshipman Director of the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference.[11] McGrath received a graduate certificate in legislative studies from Georgetown University in 2011.[11] At the United States Naval Academy, McGrath was a member of the first women's varsity soccer team.[11] McGrath was a letterwinner on the team for three years[12] and in 1994 made the Patriot League Sport Academic Honor Roll for student athletes.[13]

In 2014, McGrath earned a Master of Arts in international and global security studies from Johns Hopkins University.[14]

Military career[edit]

After graduating from the Naval Academy, at the age of 21 McGrath was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.[15] In 1999, she completed flight school and started her career as a Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) in the F/A-18 aircraft.[11] McGrath had found out she did not have 20/20 vision, which meant she could not become a pilot, but as a WSO, coordinated weapons including air-to-air AMRAAM missiles and heat-seeking Sidewinders.[5] She was assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121.[11][16] When McGrath and fellow Marine pilot Jaden Kim joined VMFA-121, they became the first female aviators to join the squadron.[5] During this same time, McGrath was also part of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101.[14]

After the September 11 attacks, McGrath, as one of the more junior WSOs, was one of the first to report to duty at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar base before the closing of the gates due to DEFCON 3. She was paired with a senior pilot on the flight line waiting for the order to protect Los Angeles, San Diego, and the west coast to potentially shoot down hijacked aircraft, an order that did not come to pass.[8][17]

In March 2002, McGrath was deployed to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, for a six-month tour, during which she flew 51 combat missions in a F/A-18D in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.[11][15] She was the first woman to fly a combat mission in the United States Marine Corps.[18]

In January 2003, stationed in Kuwait, McGrath flew in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, where she provided air support to ground troops and conducted reconnaissance and air strikes.[9][15][19]

After being promoted to Captain, McGrath transitioned from Weapons Systems Officer to pilot after getting laser eye surgery to correct her vision and completed flight school in 2004.[8][16] During 2005 and 2006, she was deployed on a second tour of duty over Afghanistan with Squadron 121.[16] During this time she became the first female to fly in an F/A-18 in combat for the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2007, she was promoted from captain to major.[19] From 2007 to 2009, she was deployed to East Asia.[11] During this same time, McGrath was also part of Fighter-Attack Squadron 106.[14]

In 2010, she served a second tour in Afghanistan with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Helmand Province.[11] In 2010, as part of this tour, McGrath was a member of a Detainee Review Board in Parwan Province in Afghanistan.[20]

During her military career, McGrath flew at least 2,000 flight hours, and was on over 85 combat missions. She also flew in exercises in the U.S., Alaska, Egypt, Australia, Korea, and Japan.[11]

In 2011, McGrath shifted state-side, working as a congressional fellow for Representative Susan Davis's (D-CA) office in Washington, D.C., as a defense and foreign affairs advisor for one year.[11] Davis was chair and ranking member on the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House Armed Services Committee and has ties via her husband to Kentucky.[4]

From 2012 to 2014, McGrath worked at the Pentagon at the Headquarters Marine Corps, Strategy & Plans Division, International Affairs Branch as a Marine Corps liaison to the Department of State and the US Agency for International Development.[11][8]

From 2014 to 2017, McGrath taught U.S. government to midshipmen as a senior political science instructor at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.[1][11]

After reaching her 20-year service mark, McGrath retired from the armed forces on June 1, 2017, at the rank of lieutenant colonel.[4]

2018 U.S. House campaign[edit]

On August 1, 2017, McGrath announced that she was running for the United States House of Representatives from Kentucky's 6th congressional district as a Democrat in the 2018 election.[21] McGrath's campaign announcement video, which attracted national attention, cost US$33,000 to produce, which put her campaign $7,000 in the red.[6][22] The video had over one million views on YouTube by August 3, 2017.[23] In that same time period, McGrath raised over US$300,000.[6][24]

McGrath said that she saw Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) speak at the Naval Academy and had reached out to him for help when she began considering running for election after Donald Trump was elected U.S. President in 2016.[25][26]

The Lexington Herald-Leader focused on the concerns about representing the more conservative voter base in the surrounding rural Central Kentucky area outside of Lexington, versus the traditionally Democratic Northern Kentucky Lexington, as well as the fact that although McGrath grew up in Kentucky, she had lived and worked outside of Kentucky serving her country as a Marine.[27][28] Her opponent in the primary, Jim Gray, whose parents both served in the military, ran attack ads with the tag line, "Shouldn't She Live Here for a While?" which supporters compared to swift-boating.[29][30] In response to these concerns, McGrath set up multiple field offices in less populated areas of Kentucky to reach rural voters.[6] The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee supported McGrath's opponent in the primary.[31][32] McGrath was endorsed by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.),[33] U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.),[6][34] the political action committee,[35] and the veteran group With Honor.[36]

McGrath won the Democratic Party primary on May 22, 2018.[37] She defeated Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky.[31][38][34] She won all 18 rural counties[39][40] with the exception of Fayette County, Kentucky.[41] After the win, Gray endorsed McGrath, as did the DCCC via their Red to Blue campaign.[42][43] Former Vice President Joe Biden called to congratulate McGrath.[44]

During the primary campaign, McGrath's campaign mailed a 32-page economic plan to 47,000 Democratic households. The plan was "printed on expensive paper with glossy photos. It also included a bumper sticker and a pledge card."[6]

McGrath opposes the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, is pro-choice, supports addressing climate change, believes gay and transgender people should be able to serve in the military, opposes repealing Obamacare, and opposes President Donald Trump. A supporter of the 2nd Amendment, she dropped her membership in the National Rifle Association.[25] McGrath considers herself a fiscal conservative.[21]

In the November 2018 general election, McGrath was defeated by Republican incumbent Andy Barr. Barr won 51% of the vote to McGrath's 47.8%.[45]

2020 U.S. Senate campaign[edit]

On July 9, 2019, McGrath announced on Twitter that she was running for the United States Senate for Kentucky as a Democrat in the 2020 election.[46] McGrath raised $3.5 million in her first week.

Personal life[edit]

McGrath was inspired to become a military aviator at a young age, especially after visiting the National Museum of the United States Air Force.[1] She said that she was inspired to be a fighter pilot when she was a 7th grader in middle school when she studied aviation in World War II, and her family often visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.[5] In 1987, when she was 12 years old, without telling her parents, McGrath wrote to the United States Naval Academy to ask when women would be able to fly in combat. The Naval Academy responded by calling McGrath's mother, saying that he[who?] didn't think women could become fighter pilots. This motivated McGrath, who had also written to her representatives in the House, the Senate, and every member of the Armed Services Committee asking for this to change.[8] Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-CO) wrote McGrath back, encouraging her to keep working towards her dreams, and that they were working on this issue.[16]

In 2009, McGrath married now-retired naval Lieutenant Commander Erik Henderson. The couple have three children. Henderson is a lifelong Republican,[17] and as Kentucky holds closed party primaries, he could not vote for his own wife in the 2018 primary.[6] The family lives in Georgetown, Kentucky.[28]

McGrath's call sign, "Krusty," is a joking reference to the way her hair stuck up in her flight helmet, and was made in homage to Krusty the Clown from the TV show, The Simpsons.[31]

In April 2017, McGrath's father died at the age of 76 after a battle with cancer.[6][10]

Honors and awards[edit]

Works and publications[edit]

  • McGrath, Maj Amy 'Krusty' (March 2013). "Women in Combat: The Bogus Old Arguments Rise Again (A Rebuttal)". Marine Corps Gazette. 97 (3). closed access
  • United States Marine Corps (March 1, 2013). United States Marine Corps Interagency Integration Strategy. Marine Corps Service Campaign Plan Annex V. Archived from the original on December 15, 2016.
  • McGrath, Amy (May 2014). More for Less: Protecting America's Security Interests Through Soft Power Programs (Thesis/dissertation). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University. OCLC 892343270.
  • McGrath, Amy (September 28, 2016). "We need—and deserve—an American version of the Brits' Chilcot Report". Foreign Policy.


  1. ^ a b c d "Kenton native named to Ky. Aviation Hall of Fame". The Cincinnati Enquirer. August 14, 2016.
  2. ^ Kenny, Caroline (August 2, 2017). "Retired fighter pilot announces her run for Congress in Kentucky" (Includes video). CNN. Archived from the original on April 21, 2018.
  3. ^ de Wind, Dorian (August 2, 2017). "Amy McGrath, a Marine Combat Fighter WSO on a New Mission". HuffPost. Archived from the original on September 17, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Ellis, Ronnie (April 28, 2017). "NKY's Amy McGrath considering run against Andy Barr? CNHI News reporter Ronnie Ellis has the story". Northern Kentucky Tribune. Archived from the original on August 6, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Holmstedt, Kirsten A.; Duckworth, L. Tammy (foreword by) (2007). "Call Sign: "Krusty"". Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. pp. xiv, xxi–xxiii, 81–113, 311. ISBN 978-0-811-74011-1. OCLC 773829868.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Tackett, Michael (May 23, 2018). "How Amy McGrath Went From Marine Fighter Pilot to Victorious Democrat". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 23, 2018.
  7. ^ Daniel Desrochers (July 9, 2019). "Amy McGrath launches campaign for U.S. Senate, paints a target on Mitch McConnell". Lexington Herald Leader. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, USMC" (Video profile). Aviation Museum of Kentucky. November 13, 2016.
  9. ^ a b Bucher, Chris (August 1, 2017). "Amy McGrath: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Archived from the original on August 5, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Tackett, Michael (July 6, 2018). "Amy McGrath Set Her Sights on the Marines and Now Congress. Her Mother Is the Reason". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 7, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Political Science Department: Lieutenant Colonel Amy 'Krusty' McGrath, U.S. Marine Corps". United States Naval Academy. Archived from the original on April 29, 2017.
  12. ^ "Former Soccer Standout Amy McGrath Featured in Band of Sisters: McGrath is a Marine Captain who is an F-18 Naval Flight Officer". Navy Sports. July 25, 2007. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017.
  13. ^ "325 Student-Athletes Named to the 1994 Patriot League Fall Sports Academic Honor Roll" (PDF). Patriot League. January 23, 1995. p. 6. NAVY: Amy McGrath. So., Women's Soccer. 3.37, Political Science. Edgewood, Kentucky
  14. ^ a b c McGrath, Amy (May 2014). More for Less: Protecting America's Security Interests Through Soft Power Programs (Thesis/dissertation). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University. p. 107. OCLC 892343270.
  15. ^ a b c Steitzer, Stephenie (April 7, 2004). "Marine pilot gets rare view of Opening Day". The Cincinnati Post. p. A6.
  16. ^ a b c d Heyne, Mark; McGrath, Amy; Schadler, Marty (December 8, 2016). "Local Combat Pilot, Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, Inducted Into The KY Aviation Hall Of Fame" (Includes audio). WVXU, Cincinnati Public Radio. Archived from the original on August 5, 2017.
  17. ^ a b Handler, Chelsea; McGrath, Amy (November 10, 2017). "Amy McGrath Is Running for Congress" (Video interview). Chelsea. YouTube.
  18. ^ Kennedy, Kelly (May 2, 2018). "What it Was Like to Be One of the First Female Fighter Pilots". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 4, 2018.
  19. ^ a b c Lachmann, John (March 5, 2007). "Local alum has earned her wings". The Cincinnati Post. p. A1.
  20. ^ "Odyssey: Lectures, non credit courses and workshops" (PDF). Johns Hopkins University. Spring 2017. pp. 2, 7. 10:35 a.m.–12 p.m. Prisoner Detainment: The Detainee Review Bd. Hearings (post-9/11); served as a Detainee Review Board member in Parwan Province, Afghanistan in 2010
  21. ^ a b Kurtzleben, Danielle (August 3, 2017). "Female Retired Marine With Viral Campaign Ad Hopes To Bridge Gap In Democratic Party". NPR.
  22. ^ Desrochers, Daniel (June 19, 2017). "His blog inflamed Kentucky politics a decade ago. Now he's back". Lexington Herald-Leader.
  23. ^ Puckett, Jeffrey Lee (August 3, 2017). "Kentucky combat veteran Amy McGrath is going viral with a video announcing Congressional run". The Courier-Journal.
  24. ^ Cottle, Michelle (June 26, 2018). "Opinion: Democrats Appealing to the Heart? Yes, Please". The New York Times.
  25. ^ a b Carlson, Ben (November 29, 2017). "Retired fighter pilot gunning for Barr's seat". The Anderson News.
  26. ^ Tackett, Michael (June 16, 2018). "In Conservative Kentucky, Power of Female Candidates Is Tested in Key House Race". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Day, Noah; Gray, Jim; McGrath, Amy; Thomas, Reggie (April 18, 2018). "The Hey Kentucky 6th Congressional District Democratic Primary Debate (04-18-18)" (Video debate). HeyKentucky!.
  28. ^ a b Desrochers, Daniel (May 15, 2018). "Amy McGrath has drawn a national spotlight. Can she be rural Kentucky's candidate?". Lexington Herald-Leader.
  29. ^ Abramson, Alana (May 21, 2018). "Ad Attacks Marine for Living Out of State During Military Service". Time.
  30. ^ Desrochers, Daniel; Clark, Lesley (May 21, 2018). "Political veterans groups denounce Gray after he airs ad criticizing McGrath". Lexington Herald-Leader.
  31. ^ a b c Murphy, Tim (May 22, 2018). "As a kid, she petitioned Congress for the right to fly fighter planes. Now she's gunning for a seat of her own". Mother Jones.
  32. ^ Tackett, Michael (January 29, 2018). "From Annapolis to Congress? These Three Women Know Tough Missions". The New York Times.
  33. ^ Roarty, Alex (August 9, 2017). "Rising Dem star Moulton grants seal of approval to three House candidates". The News & Observer.
  34. ^ a b Bradner, Eric (May 21, 2018). "Democratic primary in Kentucky pits openly gay mayor against female fighter pilot". CNN.
  35. ^ "VoteVets PAC Endorses Amy McGrath for Congress".
  36. ^ "Our Candidates: Amy McGrath KY-6 (D)". With Honor. Retrieved July 8, 2018.
  37. ^ Nilsen, Ella (May 22, 2018). "Veteran Amy McGrath continues a Democratic winning streak for women and veterans". Vox.
  38. ^ Tackett, Michael (May 22, 2018). "Amy McGrath, Once a Fighter Pilot, Wins Democratic Primary for Kentucky's 6th District". The New York Times.
  39. ^ Carter, Teri (June 5, 2018). "Rural women explain McGrath's big win". News-Graphic.
  40. ^ "WKYT Interactive: Amy McGrath's county-by-county path to victory". WKYT-TV. May 23, 2018.
  41. ^ Ellis, Ronnie (May 25, 2018). "McGrath can't be labeled". Richmond Register.
  42. ^ Brammer, Jack (June 29, 2018). "Amy McGrath endorsed by primary foe who questioned her recent move to Kentucky" (Includes video). Lexington Herald-Leader.
  43. ^ "Red to Blue: Amy McGrath, KY-06". Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Retrieved July 8, 2018.
  44. ^ Clark, Lesley (May 25, 2018). "Amy McGrath was at a Wendy's when her phone rang. It was Joe Biden. Here's what he said". McClatchyDC.
  45. ^ "Kentucky's Sixth House District Election Results: Andy Barr vs. Amy McGrath". New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  46. ^ McGrath, Amy [@AmyMcGrathKY] (July 9, 2019). "I'm running to replace Mitch McConnell in the U.S. Senate" (Tweet). Archived from the original on August 7, 2019 – via Twitter.
  47. ^ "Notre Dame Academy celebrates Women Making a Difference day, honoring three graduates". Northern Kentucky Tribune. March 15, 2017. Archived from the original on September 17, 2017.
  48. ^ McGrath, Amy (April 28, 2017). "Aviation Museum of Kentucky, 2016 Hall of Fame: Lt Col. Amy McGrath" (Video). Aviation Museum of Kentucky.

External links[edit]