She’s Got Grit: Living her own courage from the F/A-18 to a bid for Congress

Amy McGrath had just retired from the Marines when I caught up with her on her way to Kentucky. She’s headed back home with her family, and she’s not taking any time off. On August 2nd, McGrath announced that she is running for Congress in 2018.

Once you hear her story, it’s not a surprise that she doesn’t slow down. As a young Kentucky girl, the youngest of three children born to a father who taught high school history and a mother who was one of the first women to graduate medical school from the University of Kentucky, McGrath fell in love early on. The military was not part of her family history, but she had learned plenty of grit from her mother, who, after working as a pediatrician for a number of years found herself unable to walk when symptoms of childhood polio returned. Knowing she would not be able to continue her career as a pediatrician without being on her feet, when Amy was a young teenager, McGrath’s mother did a second residency to become a psychiatrist. That example of extreme determination and adaptability made a deep impact on McGrath.

Pushing the boundaries as a child

Then McGrath learned about flying.

Amy McGrath

Learning from failure

“I failed night land nav,” McGrath says. “I didn’t find the mailbox in the woods. I ended up at the FBI Academy, which was not the target. I had to do remediation training on the weekends, and it was really embarrassing. But I learned from it. I had screwed it up. Years later I was at SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) and I was the only one who could navigate at night, so I was able to use that lesson.”

Early integration challenges

The F/A-18 Hornet is the most versatile aircraft in the military, combining the agility of a fighter with the lethality of a bomber. This twin-engine supersonic all-weather and aircraft-carrier capable aircraft is considered the backbone of the carrier squadron. The 38 million dollar aircraft is the smallest aircraft on the aircraft carrier. There are just over 1,000 active F/A-18 aviators, and only single digit numbers of women in the cockpits.

Amy McGrath gets ready for a flight
McGrath prepares for a flight

Going to war

Then the Twin Towers fell.

Bringing it all together

In Iraq, a change of mission brought everything together for McGrath: the flying, the camaraderie, the mission, the challenge.

McGrath and her mother, source of strength and inspiration

Never done learning

Now McGrath was both front and back seat qualified in the F/A-18 Hornet. She went back to the RAG (training squadron), where she began training for her aircraft carrier qualifications.

Advice to new leaders

What would she tell new leaders starting out after her twenty year career?

McGrath and her family

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