Mary Jennings Hegar (née von Stein; March 16, 1976) is an American United States Air Force veteran and former political candidate. In 2012, she sued the U.S. Air Force to remove the Combat Exclusion Policy. In 2017, she published the memoir Shoot Like a Girl, which describes her service in Afghanistan.
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, she lost to incumbent Republican John Carter by about 3%. She was the Democratic nominee in the 2020 United States Senate election in Texas, losing to incumbent Republican John Cornyn by ten percentage points.
Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman's Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front (2017)
- It has been incredibly difficult to recount some of the events in this book. Many of them are hard enough to talk about with a close friend, let alone write about for anyone and everyone to read. I'm putting it all out there for the world to see, and it's terrifying. But many people don't know what Air Force Rescue does or that the Air Force even has helicopters. Many people don't know about the enormous contribution of the Air National Guard. Many don't think that there are women serving in combat roles. Others think that the women who do serve in combat shrink in fear when the bullets fly. I know differently, and I want you to know, too.
- Author's Note
- As we crossed the border into Kandahar, our C-130 plane went dark to help protect us from any enemy ground troops in the area. The aircraft entered into a rapid descent to get us on the ground as quickly and safely as possible. We knew this kind of landing was standard and most of us expected it, but it also seemed like it completely unnerved everyone. It felt like it was the first time we were vulnerable to enemy fire, and all of us knew it was just the beginning. Welcome to Afghanistan.
- p. 137
- But for some reason, it was never the strong, fit guys who were threatened enough by me to infer I was physically inferior. It was always the guys who were at the bottom rung of the physical fitness ladder. It was as if, like any bully, they were so insecure that they had to seek out someone they thought was weaker than they were and kick them around.
- p. 146
- My first patient was my first casualty. He left a tar of blood and dust an inch deep on the Pave Hawk floor. After shutting down the aircraft and getting it ready for our next mission, I walked the hundred yards across the courtyard, past the barracks, the chow hall, the gym, and the TOC to the hospital to confirm what I already knew in my heart- we had lost him. I would have known it even if I hadn't seen him lose so much blood. A palpable sense of loss hung heavy in the dust and heat all around me.
- p. 150
- The boy's father boarded the aircraft alongside his son but wouldn't speak to us. He just glared at us with his sun-darkened, wrinkled eyes. It was as if he expected us to try to kill them both at any minute. The little boy, on the other hand, quickly stole our hearts. We could see that he was in pain and utterly terrified. The sound of the helicopter was probably the loudest, most frightening thing he had ever experienced, and Thor, who was checking his vitals, was clearly scaring him. It was at that time my medic won my loyalty forever. I had never really noticed, but apparently, Thor carried a Beanie Baby-sized teddy bear on his vest for times just like this. When he pulled it from its pouch and then lifted the boy's hand to place the bear on his chest, the little boy's fear disappeared. The smile that briefly crossed his face before he snuggled into the teddy bear was the type of moment that reminded us why we were over there. After we got him back to the base and into the hospital, I couldn't seem to get him out of my mind. I kept going back to visit this little angel, as I often did to my other patients, to see how he was doing. Each day he looked a little better. On the third day, I came in to see him, but he wasn't there. I was disappointed not to see him but was so happy that he had recovered enough to go home. One of the nurses who knew me walked over to me as I smiled down at his empty bed. "I'm so sorry. I guess it was just too much for his little lungs." He hadn't gotten better- he had contracted pneumonia and died the previous night. I walked out trying to convince myself that it was okay, that he had died peacefully, but no matter how I painted it in my mind, to this day I cry for that sweet casualty of this terrible war.
- p. 153-154
- Not every man has the skill set or warrior spirit for combat. Not every woman does, either. But everyone that does have that skill set should be afforded the opportunity to compete for jobs that enable them to serve in the way their heart calls them. For some people, that calling is music or art. Some are natural teachers. There are those who will save lives with science. I was called to be a warrior and to fly and fight for my country. I was afforded the opportunity to answer that call, and because of that, I have lived a full and beautiful life. People will always be afraid of change. Just like when we integrated racially or opened up combat cockpits to women, there will always be those who are vocal in their opposition and their fear. History will do what it always does, however. It will make their ignorant statements, in retrospect, seem shortsighted and discriminatory, and the women who will serve their country bravely in the jobs that are now opening up will prove them wrong. Just like we always have.
- p. 290
- And to everyone who ever tried to convince me that I couldn't win, thank you for inspiring me to prove you wrong. Na-na na-na boo-boo.
- p. 292
Quotes about Hegar
- Major Mary Jennings Hegar has established her warrior credentials, joining an elite group of American service members who have bravely served our nation in combat. In Shoot Like a Girl, Major Hegar shares her remarkable experience on the front lines both overseas and at home- from exchanging fire with the Taliban and saving her comrades in Afghanistan, to fighting to open all combat positions to women in the military.
- John McCain, in the preface to Shoot Like a Girl (2017) by Mary Jennings Hegar.