MJ Hegar

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MJ Hegar
Personal details
Mary Ottilie von Stein

(1976-03-16) March 16, 1976 (age 47)
Fairfield, Connecticut, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Brandon Hegar
(m. 2011)
EducationUniversity of Texas at Austin (BA, MBA)
WebsiteCampaign website
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Air Force
Years of service1999–2011
RankUS-O4 insignia.svg Major

Mary Jennings Hegar (née von Stein;[1] born March 16, 1976) is an American United States Air Force veteran and former political candidate.[2] In 2012, she sued the U.S. Air Force to remove the Combat Exclusion Policy.[3][4] In 2017, she published the memoir Shoot Like a Girl, which describes her service in Afghanistan.[5]

In July 2017, Hegar 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 lost to incumbent Republican John Carter by about 3%.[7] She was the Democratic nominee in the 2020 United States Senate election in Texas, losing to incumbent Republican John Cornyn by ten percentage points.

Early life and education[edit]

When Hegar was 7 years old, her mother, Grace, moved her and her sister from Fairfield, Connecticut, to Cedar Park, Texas.[5]: 16  Hegar grew up in Cedar Park,[8] where her mother remarried a Vietnam veteran, David Jennings, when she was 10 years old.[5]: 14–15 

Hegar was her high school class president, on the cheer squad, and played various sports, including soccer.[9]

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 of the Arnold Air Society. In 2015, she graduated from Leadership Austin Essential Class.[10] In 2016 she received an Executive MBA, also from the University of Texas at Austin.[11]



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. Initially stationed at Misawa Air Base in Misawa, Aomori, Japan, she was later stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, 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.[citation needed]

In 2004, the Air National Guard selected Hegar for pilot training. Upon completion of her training at the top of her class, she served two deployments to Afghanistan as a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter pilot, flying Combat Search and Rescue[12] on over 100 missions[13] as well as Medevac missions as a helicopter pilot.[14][15][16] As a member of the California Air National Guard, she worked as a pilot and trainer at the San Jose-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, suppressed wildfires with buckets of water on cargo slings, performed pilot duties in evacuating survivors from hurricane-devastated cities, and rescued civilians on civil search and rescue missions in California and at sea.[5]

On July 29, 2009, on her third tour to Afghanistan, Hegar was shot down near Kandahar with a co-pilot on a combat search-and-rescue mission.[17] She received shrapnel wounds in her arm and leg from Taliban ground fire, but her helicopter was able to rescue the soldiers it had been sent to help. Under further heavy fire, her helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing. Other U.S. Army helicopters rescued her, her team, and the other soldiers, but because the rescue helicopters were small and full, she and others had to fly out standing on the skids.[18][19]

Hegar was awarded the Purple Heart in December 2009.[16] Her actions on this mission earned her the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device, awarded in 2011.[20] She was one of the few women to receive this medal after Amelia Earhart.[21][22] In 2016, she described a 2007 mission to medevac a child in great detail in a TEDx Talks presentation.[23]

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,[24] Hegar transitioned out of the Air National Guard and became a Reservist Liaison.[3]

Other work[edit]

In 2010, Hegar relocated to Austin and worked as a program manager at Seton Healthcare Family until 2015. From 2015 to 2017, she worked as a consultant at Dell Computers.[9]

Hegar has taught at the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business and in the ROTC and women's studies departments.[citation needed] She has mentored cadets at UT[25] and has served on the AFROTC Advisory Committee.


In March 2017, the Berkley Books imprint of Penguin Books published Hegar's memoir, Shoot Like a Girl, in a new military division called Caliber.[18] In 2016, it was announced that the movie rights to the book had been optioned by TriStar Pictures, with Angelina Jolie reportedly in negotiations for the lead role.[26][27]


On July 6, 2017, Hegar announced that she would run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Representative in Texas's 31st congressional district.[2] In May 2018, she won the nomination.[6] In June, Hegar released a short-form political ad, "Doors", that described her military career, including being shot down in Afghanistan. The video went viral and drew the attention of celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda.[28][29][30] In the November election she lost to Republican incumbent John Carter, who received 50.6% of the vote to her 47.6%; it was Carter's narrowest win in his nine elections to Congress.

On April 23, 2019, Hegar announced that she was running for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 United States Senate election in Texas for the seat held by John Cornyn.[31] She came in first in the March 3, 2020, primary with 22.37% of the vote, and won the July 14 runoff against Texas state Senator Royce West, who had received 14.7% of the primary vote.[32]

Hegar's campaign received the endorsement of former president Barack Obama on September 25, 2020.[33] Her campaign focused on her support for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), protecting individuals with preexisting conditions, and creating a public health insurance option.[34][35] Cornyn won the election, 54% to 44%.[36] Occurring during the 2020's historical high turnout, Hegar received 4,888,764 votes.

Combat Exclusion Policy[edit]

Shortly after the 2009 mission in which Hegar was wounded in Afghanistan, she was medically disqualified from flying. The military's Combat Exclusion Policy automatically excluded her from applying for ground combat positions that would have moved her military career forward.[22] She was barred from cross-training for a ground combat position (such as a special tactics officer) despite her expertise as a pilot, which had it not been for her gender would have been a next step.[21][37]

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 lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asserting that the Combat Exclusion Policy was unconstitutional.[21][38][39] Hegar said the suit was about military effectiveness and would give military commanders a larger pool of applicants.[18] The lawsuit failed, but the policy, implemented in 1994, was repealed in January 2013.[13][40][41]

Personal life[edit]

In 2011, Hegar married Brandon Hegar, whom she knew from high school. She and her family live in Round Rock, Texas, a suburb of Austin.[29] She has two sons as well as stepchildren from her husband's previous marriage.[18][23]

Hegar has many tattoos, which were prominently featured in her 2018 viral campaign ad, "Doors."[42] She has said that the cherry blossom tattoo on her shoulder was a way to cover up shrapnel scar tissue, to take control and make the wounds beautiful. In her book, she mentions being sexually assaulted by an Air Force medic during a physical exam.[22][43] The ad also discussed the domestic violence perpetrated by her father against her, her mother, and her sister during her adolescent years.[44][45]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 2008: California Aviator of the Year
  • 2009: Air Force Association, Outstanding Airmen of the Year[46]
  • 2013: Foreign Policy, The Leading Global Thinkers of 2013 – with Zoe Bedell, Colleen Farrell, and Jennifer Hunt[47]
  • 2015: Army Women's Foundation Hall of Fame, inductee
  • 2017: Merrimack College, Honorary PhD of public affairs[48]
  • 2018: American Red Cross Metro New York North, Exceptional Service Award[49]

Military ribbons[edit]

Ribbon Description Notes
Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device 2011[20]
Ribbon of the Purple Heart Purple Heart 2009[16]
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal Four oak leaf clusters
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Commendation Medal One oak leaf cluster
Ribbon of the NDSM National Defense Service Medal
Bronze star
Afghanistan Campaign Medal One service star
Ribbon of the HSM Humanitarian Service Medal
Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon
Ribbon of the USAF Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
Air Force Training Ribbon

Works and publications[edit]

  • Hegar, Major Mary Jennings (27 November 2012). "Women Warriors Are On the Battlefield. Eliminate Outdated, Unfair Military Combat Exclusion Policy". American Civil Liberties Union.
  • Hegar, Mary Jennings (14 December 2012). "Letters to the Editor: Breaking into the military's 'band of brothers'". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 13 April 2013. – in response to retired Army Major General Robert H. Scales opinion piece of 6 Dec 2012 in The Washington Post
  • Hegar, Mary Jennings (15 February 2013). "Making a case for females on the front lines". Houston Chronicle.
  • 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.


  1. ^ a b "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. ^ a b Svitek, Patrick (6 July 2017). "Military hero MJ Hegar launches Democratic bid against U.S. Rep. John Carter". Texas Tribune.
  3. ^ a b "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.
  4. ^ Worrall, Simon (26 March 2017). "Female Helicopter Pilot Took on the Taliban—and the Pentagon". National Geographic.
  5. ^ a b c d 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.
  6. ^ a b Silver, Johnathan (22 May 2018). "Hegar wins Democratic nomination in 31st Congressional District". Austin American-Statesman.
  7. ^ McElrath, Leah (8 July 2017). "Texas Purple Heart veteran enters House race to unseat 8-term GOP birther". Shareblue Media.
  8. ^ Prengel, Kate (25 June 2018). "MJ Hegar: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy.com.
  9. ^ a b Smith, Courtney E. (1 March 2018). "MJ For Texas Is Not Your Average Congressional Campaign". Refinery29.
  10. ^ "Essential Alumni: 2015. MJ Hegar". Leadership Austin. 2015.
  11. ^ Ransom, Danielle (Fall 2017). "To the Rescue: Mary Jennings "MJ" Hegar, MBA '16". McCombs. McCombs School of Business. p. 43.
  12. ^ Tedeschi, Diane (April 2017). "She Just Wanted to Fly". Air & Space Magazine. National Air and Space Museum.
  13. ^ a b Amanpour, Christiane (20 July 2018). "MJ Hegar, US Air Force Pilot" (Video). Makers: Women Who Make America.
  14. ^ "A war hero is running for Congress, and she just dropped one of 2018's best political ads". USA TODAY.
  15. ^ Penn, Nathaniel; Levitt, Danielle (photography) (23 April 2013). "Natural Born Killers". GQ.
  16. ^ a b c Green, Airman 1st Class Jessica (10 December 2009). "Airman Returns Home with a Purple Heart". Air National Guard.
  17. ^ Schapiro, Rich (18 February 2017). "Air National Guard vet fights for women's rights in U.S. military after heroics in Afghanistan". New York Daily News.
  18. ^ a b c d Gross, Terry; Hegar, Mary Jennings (2 March 2017). "A Purple Heart Warrior Takes Aim At Military Inequality In 'Shoot Like A Girl'" (Audio interview includes partial transcript). Fresh Air. NPR.
  19. ^ Green, Airman 1st Class Jessica (11 December 2009). "Airman helps rescue 3 injured warriors during battle in Afghanistan". United States Air Force.
  20. ^ a b Green, Senior Airman Jessica (9 November 2011). "Heroes recognized for lives saved". Air National Guard.
  21. ^ a b c Kurková, Karolína (introduced by); Lane, Diane (narrated by); Hegar, Major Mary Jennings (26 February 2018). "MJ Hegar at American Valor" (Video). American Veterans Center.
  22. ^ a b c 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.
  23. ^ a b Hagar, Mary Jennings (28 April 2016). "Follow Your Heart Because It Knows You Best: Major Mary Jennings "MJ" Hegar at TEDxGreatHillsWomen" (Video). TEDx Talks.
  24. ^ "Meet the hero vet who fought the Taliban while battling sexism". New York Post. 12 March 2017.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Ford, Rebecca (24 June 2015). "TriStar Nabs Military Memoir 'Shoot Like a Girl' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
  27. ^ Ford, Rebecca (30 September 2016). "Angelina Jolie in Early Talks for War Drama 'Shoot Like a Girl'". The Hollywood Reporter.
  28. ^ News Anchor; Hegar, MJ (25 June 2018). "Veteran candidate's ad for Congress goes viral" (Video interview). CNN.
  29. ^ a b Cohrs, Rachel (25 June 2018). "Texas Democratic U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar's life story as campaign ad goes viral". Dallas News.
  30. ^ Walsh, Michael (26 June 2018). "Democrat's viral campaign video could be trouble for tea party Republican in deep-red Texas". Yahoo! News.
  31. ^ Jechow, Andy. "Air Force Veteran MJ Hegar Is Challenging Texas Sen. John Cornyn In 2020". KUT-Austin.
  32. ^ Svitek, Patrick (March 3, 2020). "MJ Hegar, Royce West head to runoff in Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn". The Texas Tribune.
  33. ^ "Barack Obama endorses MJ Hegar in U.S. Senate race against Texas incumbent John Cornyn". Dallas News. 2020-09-25. Retrieved 2020-09-28.
  34. ^ Wermund, Benjamin (2020-09-25). "In Texas, Cornyn v. Hegar is epicenter of battle over coverage for preexisting conditions". HoustonChronicle.com. Retrieved 2020-10-07.
  35. ^ "Where Texas' Democratic Senate Candidates Stand on Health Care". NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth. Retrieved 2020-10-07.
  36. ^ Texas 2020 election results, ABC News, November 3, 2020.
  37. ^ Simon, Scott; Hegar, Major Mary Jennings (26 January 2013). "Maj. Hegar: A Woman Who Has Already Seen Combat" (Audio interview with transcript). Weekend Edition Saturday, NPR.
  38. ^ Thomas, Gillian; Leveille, Vania (4 April 2017). "Hegar, et al. v. Panetta: The Legal Challenge to the Combat Exclusion Policy" (PDF). American Civil Liberties Union.
  39. ^ Henderson, Peter (27 November 2012). "ACLU sues over policy barring women from combat". Chicago Tribune. Reuters.
  40. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth; Shanker, Thom (23 January 2013). "Pentagon Set to Lift Ban on Women in Combat Roles". The New York Times.
  41. ^ MacKenzie, Megan H. (2015). "2. The disintegration of the combat exclusion in Iraq and Afghanistan: Legal challenges". Beyond the Band of Brothers: The US Military and the Myth That Women Can't Fight. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 58–63. ISBN 978-1-107-62810-6. OCLC 914235926.
  42. ^ Zernike, Kate (14 July 2018). "Forget Suits. Show the Tattoo. Female Candidates Are Breaking the Rules". The New York Times.
  43. ^ Recio, Maria (9 December 2017). "M.J. Hegar isn't your father's congressional candidate. Here's why". Austin American-Statesman.
  44. ^ 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.
  45. ^ Cottle, Michelle (26 June 2018). "Opinion: Democrats Appealing to the Heart? Yes, Please". The New York Times.
  46. ^ "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
  47. ^ "The Leading Global Thinkers of 2013: Mary Jennings Hegar, Zoe Bedell, Colleen Farrell, and Jennifer Hunt - For shattering the brass ceiling". Foreign Policy. 2013.
  48. ^ "Master's Graduates Urged to Never Give Up". Merrimack College. 20 May 2017.
  49. ^ 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[edit]

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Texas
(Class 2)

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