"We need a new freshman class of servant leaders who are used to working with people we disagree with," Hegar said in a telephone interview with Military.com on Monday.
Hegar, an Air Force and combat veteran, believes her prior service aligns with the type of leadership the U.S. needs at a time of "hyper-partisan" politics that affects the way Americans deal, interact and empathize with one another. Her new mission is to work with her prospective lawmaker colleagues to back a stable, national security environment while fighting for better jobs and medical care back home.
"I see an uncomfortably flippant attitude toward putting our men and women in uniform at risk, by how we treat our allies, or how we treat a nuclear power or how we treat countries that are actively attacking our democracy. I think there are a lot of things that we need a lot more veterans in Congress because of that," she said.
Hegar is running as a Democrat against Carter, an eight-term Republican. Carter, she said, once denied her a meeting years ago when she was looking for congressional support to pressure the Pentagon to allow women to serve in combat.
Hegar was one of four female veterans who signed on to a lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in 2012 against then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, calling existing restrictions against women serving in ground combat units unconstitutional. Resolution ultimately did not come through the courts -- the case remains open. But amid mounting pressure, Panetta reversed the ban in January 2013, paving the way for women to serve in previously closed units.
It is one of the reasons she wanted to put her story out there. Eventually, she said, it became the motivation behind her current campaign.
"In the military, we are thrown into a melting pot of cultures and communities and we disagree a lot on how to accomplish the mission, but when it comes time to get the work done, we focus our energy on accomplishing the mission," Hegar said. "We've got to tell our stories to influence culture, and we have to get more people elected who have faced challenges like domestic violence, working minimum-wage jobs, wondering how to get food on the table ... regular people."