Amy McGrath is the Democratic challenger to conservative Andy Barr in a tight race for Kentucky’s 6th District, to be decided today.
When McGrath was a child, she quickly found out that there was a federal law that prohibited women from serving in combat roles within the military. So she wrote to members of Congress and sent letters to be published in her hometown newspaper, her biography said. But McGrath was disappointed to learn from one of her congressman that she wouldn’t be able to achieve that dream.
“When I was 13, my congressman told me I couldn’t fly in combat,” she says. “He said Congress thought women ought to be protected and not allowed to serve in combat. I never got a letter back from my senator, Mitch McConnell.”
To the Lexington Herald Leader on Nov. 5, McGrath said, “I don’t need to bring in the president’s son to get a crowd.”
Here’s what you need to know about McGrath:
1. McGrath Graduated From the Naval Academy in 1997 & Played on the School’s 1st Women’s Soccer Team
McGrath is the youngest of three children and grew up in Edgewood, Kentucky — just outside of Covington. Her father was a high school English teacher, while her mother was a medical doctor and the first female to graduate from the University of Kentucky’s medical school. She attended Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, Kentucky, and remained active in sports and academics.
When she was a senior at Notre Dame, McGrath was excited to learn the federal law that once stopped women from fighting in combat missions was lifted, and she continued to pursue her lifelong goals in the military. She applied and was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 1997 from the school with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
While she was studying there, she played on the Naval Academy’s first women’s soccer team beginning in 1993, the school wrote. She was on the team with 23 other women and was a three-year letterwinner, garnering recognition for her strong academics from the Patriot League in 1995.
While she was a senior at the school, McGrath was the midshipman director of the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference.
2. She Was 1st Assigned as a Systems Officer Before Working Her Way up to Pilot
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree and being commissioned as a Marine Corps officer, she completed flight school in 1999. Following that achievement, McGrath was assigned as an FA-18 Weapons Systems Officer to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, her Naval Academy biography says, becoming one step closer to where she once saw herself when she was 12-years old.
According to her biography, McGrath was placed on “alert status” and spent three hours strapped into an F-18 that was loaded with missiles on the morning of September 11, 2001, awaiting orders to launch and potentially shoot down any commercial airliner that was part of the terrorist attack.
In 2002, McGrath, now a captain, was deployed to Kyrgyzstan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. There, she flew combat missions in Afghanistan and completed her second combat tour to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
While serving in Afghanistan, she compiled almost 2,000 flight hours and flew 89 combat missions.
3. McGrath Became a Fighter Jet Pilot in 2005
From 2005 until 2006, Captain McGrath transitioned from her initial role to become an F/A-18 pilot, thus achieving her childhood dream.
During her second tour of duty with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, she was deployed to East Asia, where she was stationed from 2007 until 2009.
Then, in 2010, Captain McGrath was deployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
While in the military, McGrath also taught political science at the Naval Academy.
4. McGrath Spoke of Her Military Experience in a 2007 Book
In a July 2007 book by Kirsten Holmstedt titled Band of Sisters American Women at War in Iraq, McGrath spoke of her experience in overseas combat.
The book told the experience of female soldiers “on the front lines,” though McGrath offered a different perspective.
“There are no front lines out there,” McGrath said. “Let me repeat, there are no front lines out there.”
McGrath explained that even areas considered “secure” by the military are still vulnerable to attacks.
“People like Amy McGrath, who flies F-18s, made it all sound like a day at the office — which, for her, it was,” Holmstedt said in an article by the Wilmington Star News. “Philip (Gerard, her thesis advisor) really worked with me on how to take her monotone descriptions and elevate them until they showed how remarkable she really was.”
McGrath said that she was inspired to join the military because of male role models that served during her lifetime, adding that she thrived to be like them.
5. McGrath Started in Politics in 2011
In addition to her schooling at the Naval Academy, McGrath obtained her a masters of arts degree in international/global security from Johns Hopkins University and also earned a graduate certificate in legislative studies from Georgetown University.
McGrath retired from the military as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Marine Corps on June 1. In her 20-year military career, she earned many medals and awards.
Those include the Meritorious Service Medal, eight Strike Flight Air Medals, a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, a Navy Achievement Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, two Afghan Campaign medals and an Iraqi Campaign medal.
McGrath is married to a former U.S. Navy pilot who’s a registered Republican. The couple have three children, Eleanor (1), George (3) and Theodore (5), and are moving to Georgetown, Kentucky to be closer to her parents.
Following her retirement from the military, McGrath told the Daily Independent that she was weighing a run for political office in Kentucky. Her top priority, she told attendees at a listening panel, is healthcare.
“It’s a right,” she said, making note that her mother is a physician and faces health issues along with her father.
While McGrath is considered a political newbie, she does boast time in D.C. In 2011, McGrath was assigned to Capitol Hill as a congressional fellow and worked in Representative Susan Davis of San Diego‘s office. She served as the Davis’ defense and foreign affairs policy advisor.
Then, in 2012, she served in the Pentagon at Headquarters Marine Corps, Strategy & Plans Division, International Affairs Branch as the Marine Corps. She was the liaison to other federal agencies like the State Department, her military biography notes.
“My background is in the military,” McGrath said at the listening panel. “I’ve been on the Hill, I’ve watched people in Congress make these decisions who just have no idea about military needs or foreign policy.”
As far as the rest of her political views, McGrath said that she “owns lots of weapons” and is “not about to take away anyone’s guns.” While Donald Trump is popular in Kentucky, she’s worried at the direction his administration is taking the nation.
McGrath has made it known that she believes climate change is the real thing and noted that she voted absentee while in the military whenever able to.