Defense Secretary clears way for women in combat roles; Texas veteran played monumental role

The Defense Secretary announced Thursday that all combat jobs must be open to women. A Central Texas veteran played a monumental role in the historic decision.

"I was on pins and needles listening to him speak and I was really excited when he said no exemptions," said Hegar.

It was a victory for Air Force veteran Major Mary Jennings Hegar as the announcement cleared the way for women to apply for all combat roles.

"They will be able to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They will be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy Seals, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force para jumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men," said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

From the age of six, Hegar wanted to be a combat pilot.

"I grew up wanting to do that. It was in my heart. It was something I wanted to do. I love adrenaline," said Hegar.

Lucky for her, the Air Force cleared the way in the 90s, allowing her to take a job as a medevac pilot. In 2009, she was shot down.

"I was shot through the window and was wounded," said Hegar. "Then, when we had a hard landing and had to defend our perimeter, I was wounded but still shoulder-to-shoulder with special forces defending our perimeter and firing at the enemy."

She was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device. But that was the end of her military career. She was medically disqualified for being a pilot and could not apply for the one other air force role that interested her because it was a ground combat position and she was a woman.

"My step-daughter, when she was 11, came to me and said 'I want to be a Marine' and I said 'well you better drop and give me some push-ups then and let's start training.' She came to me the next day in tears and said an adult told her she couldn't be a Marine, 'that's a boy's job' and I said I'm going to do something about that," said Hegar.

She did. In 2012, Hegar filed suit against the Secretary of Defense asserting that the combat exclusion policy was unconstitutional. Other than being a role model, Hegar wanted to fix what she calls a sexual assault epidemic.

"It's important to diminish the warrior class verses the support class. That's where a lot of that comes from," said Hegar.

Hegar says she was a victim of a man who felt entitled to assault her because she was inferior.

"He forced me with the threat of ruining my career to lay back and submit to a very painful, aggressive, angry procedure," said Hegar.

Hegar calls the defense secretary's order Thursday a huge and important step in military culture.

U.S. Marine Corps sergeant and Purple Heart recipient Chris Jaramillo supports the change.

"I did get to see women out there doing their job and the women that were out there were just as capable of doing their job as the men who were out there," said Jaramillo.  "You're going to get another asset that's going to bring a different perspective into it. I think it will be a good idea to open it up since they're out there anyway."

While this is a momentous day, Hegar says this is not the time to relax. More is expected of women than ever before.

"Put on your big girl panties and you know, let's get to work, showing the world what we can do," said Hegar.

The armed services has 30 days to submit plans to make the change.

Hegar has written a book called, "Shoot Like A Girl." It comes out this June.


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