Amy Melinda McGrath (born June 3, 1975) is an American politician and former Marine fighter pilot. During her 20 years of service in the Marine Corps, McGrath flew 89 combat missions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. McGrath was the first woman to fly a combat mission for the Marine Corps, as well as the first to pilot the F/A-18 on a combat mission. Toward the end of her service, McGrath worked domestically as a political adviser, a liaison officer, and an instructor at the United States Naval Academy.
McGrath graduated in 1993 from Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, Kentucky, where she played varsity soccer, basketball, and baseball, and was captain of the soccer team her senior year. In her senior year, she received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, the same year Congress lifted the Combat Exclusion Policy which banned women from becoming fighter pilots.
In 1997, McGrath graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in political science. While there, McGrath was the student director of the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference. She was also a member of the Academy's first women's varsity soccer team.
After graduating from the Naval Academy, at the age of 21 McGrath was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. In 1999, she completed flight school and started her career as a Weapons Systems Officer (WSO), coordinating weapons including air-to-air AMRAAM missiles and heat-seeking Sidewinders. She was assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121. When McGrath and fellow Marine pilot Jaden Kim joined VMFA-121, they became the first female aviators to join the squadron. During this same time, McGrath was also part of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101.
In March 2002, McGrath was deployed to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, for a six-month tour of duty, during which she flew 51 combat missions in an F/A-18D in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. She was the first woman to fly a combat mission in the United States Marine Corps. In January 2003, stationed in Kuwait, McGrath flew in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, where she provided air support to ground troops and conducted reconnaissance and air strikes.
After being promoted to Captain, McGrath completed flight school in 2004, becoming a Naval Aviator, vice a Naval Flight Officer. During 2005 and 2006, she was deployed on a second tour of duty over Afghanistan with Squadron 121. During this time she became the first female to fly in an F/A-18 in combat for the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2007, she was promoted from captain to major. From 2007 to 2009, she was deployed to East Asia. During this same time, McGrath was also part of Fighter-Attack Squadron 106. In 2010, she served a second tour in Afghanistan with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Helmand Province.
In 2009, McGrath married now-retired naval Lieutenant Commander Erik Henderson. The couple have three children. The family lives in Georgetown, Kentucky.
In 2011, McGrath returned to the United States and was assigned as a congressional fellow for Representative Susan Davis's office in Washington, D.C., as a defense and foreign affairs advisor for a year. Davis was chair and ranking member on the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House Armed Services Committee.
McGrath received a graduate certificate in legislative studies from Georgetown University in 2011. In 2014, she earned a Master of Arts in international and global security studies from Johns Hopkins University.
In 2016, McGrath authored an editorial for Foreign Policy magazine, calling for a thorough investigation of the decision-making process that the U.S. government took leading up to the Iraq War, similar to the British Chilcot Report. She cited the "seven investigations, ... 33 hearings, and ... almost $7 million examining every facet of the disaster in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed," and contrasted it with the "4,806 American and coalition members deaths and 32,246 wounded" and estimated $3 trillion spent during the Iraq War.
Following her retirement from military service in 2017, McGrath entered politics. She was the Democratic nominee for Kentucky's 6th congressional district in the 2018 election, losing to incumbent Republican Andy Barr by 9,732 votes out of over 300,000 votes cast. In July 2019, she announced her campaign for the United States Senate in the 2020 election, seeking to challenge incumbent Mitch McConnell. In a close primary, McGrath defeated state representative Charles Booker to gain the nomination for the Democratic Party.
In April 2017, McGrath's father died at the age of 76 after a battle with cancer.
From 2012 to 2014, McGrath worked at the Pentagon at the Headquarters Marine Corps, as a Marine Corps liaison to the Department of State and the US Agency for International Development. From 2014 to 2017, McGrath taught as a senior political science instructor at the United States Naval Academy. After reaching her 20-year service mark, McGrath retired from the armed forces on June 1, 2017, at the rank of lieutenant colonel.
On August 1, 2017, McGrath announced that she was running for the United States House of Representatives from Kentucky's 6th congressional district as a Democrat in the 2018 election. McGrath's campaign announcement video attracted national attention. The video had over one million views on YouTube by August 3, 2017.
McGrath won the Democratic Party primary on May 22, 2018. She defeated Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, and a well-known figure who was one of the first openly gay Kentuckians elected to public office. She won all 18 rural counties with the exception of Fayette County, Kentucky. After the win, Gray endorsed McGrath, as did the DCCC via their Red to Blue campaign. Former Vice President Joe Biden called to congratulate McGrath.
In the November 2018 general election, McGrath was defeated by Republican incumbent Andy Barr. Barr won 51% of the vote to McGrath's 47.8%.
On July 9, 2019, McGrath announced on Twitter that she was running for the United States Senate for Kentucky in the 2020 election, challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell. McGrath raised $3.5 million in her first week. In her launch video, McGrath stated that "bit by bit, year by year, [McConnell has] turned Washington into something we all despise -- where dysfunction and chaos are political weapons." Various polls have shown McConnell among the least popular senators with his own constituents, since at least 2012. As of January 2020, his approval rating was at 37 percent among Kentuckians.
On August 23, 2019, McGrath's campaign released an ad called "10 Hour Bus Ride.” It featured a reenactment of a group of miners with black lung disease who made a 10-hour bus trip to Washington D.C. to ask McConnell to help fund their medical care, but received only one minute of McConnell's time. Two miners who were featured in the ad filed a lawsuit against the McGrath campaign for using their images. They said they were not informed the footage would be used for political purposes, although the McGrath campaign disputes this.
McGrath's campaign reported raising $12.8 million in the first quarter of 2020, outraising McConnell, who reported raising $7.4 million in the same period. According to Raymond La Raja, a political science professor at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, McGrath's is “a high-profile race, McConnell is the second most powerful Republican and Democrats intensely dislike him. It is a national race that attracts small donors. ... If it was a choice of [the] Democratic establishment, they would not be investing this much in the race. But this really is being funded through grassroots. I think they [the Democratic establishment] have concerns about not having money for other races which are winnable. But even though pundits say this race is not close and McConnell will win, people see this race as a tight one, which is why they're giving money.” As of June 2020, these small donors have contributed $43M to the "Amy for America" PAC and $29M to the "Amy McGrath for Senate" PAC through the ActBlue PAC. Over 1.7 million individual donations through ActBlue have been reported by the two PACs.