Rita Aragon, a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force who now serves as Oklahoma’s secretary for veterans affairs, will highlight Veterans Appreciation Day May 20 [FRIDAY] at East Central University.
Veterans Appreciation Day will be hosted by ECU’s Veterans Upward Bound Program in the Bill S. Cole University Center and will include workshops and information appropriate for veterans, active duty military and National Guard and Reserve members, as well as their families.
Representatives of nearly 50 programs or organizations related to veterans will have displays and share their information from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Workshops will begin at 9 a.m. in the Estep Multimedia Center. Representatives of U.S. Rep. Tom Cole and Sen. Tom Coburn also plan to attend, and the Patriot Guard Riders will display a military tribute bike.
“Our Veterans Appreciation Day celebration will be full of fun, great fellowship and fantastic valuable information,” said Mary Meeks, director of ECU’s VUB Program. “We want people to help us tell our veterans, those who are currently serving, and their families how very much we appreciate their sacrifice and service.”
Aragon will speak at 11:30 a.m. She retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2007 as the Air National Guard assistant to the deputy chief of staff of Staff Manpower and Personnel at the Pentagon. She was the senior Air National Guard officer responsible for military and civilian personnel management, education, training and resource allocation.
Aragon was a teacher and single mother who joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard out of desperation in 1979 in order to support her two children. She enlisted as an airman basic in the 219th Engineering Installation Squadron in Oklahoma City. Twenty-eight years later, she retired as a record-setting major general
“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she has said. “I gained strength from professional, physical and personal development and education that the United States Air Force offered. I found support in the men and women who serve our nation and in turn grew in ability and independence.”
Aragon combined a career as a teacher, counselor and principal in the Oklahoma City public schools with a career in the military for nearly 20 years.
In 1989 she became the first female commander in the OANG when she assumed command of the 137th Services Flight at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base. She became the first female to hold the rank of brigadier general in the Oklahoma National Guard and the first female commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard in March 2003. In fact, she was the first female in the United States to command a state’s Air National Guard.
Among the many medals she received are the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Aragon was named an OKC Chamber of Commerce Excellent Educator of the Year in 1990, Oklahoma City Principal of the Year in 1992, Oklahoma Woman Veteran of the Year in 1999 and Journal Record Woman of the Year in 2008. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007 and received the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge Award in 2010.
She is a senior military adviser for the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and serves on the boards of the Oklahoma Women’s Foundation, the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women and the PGA Folds of Honor Foundation. She is a regional representative for Women In Military Service for America and a member of the White House Commission on Military Leadership Diversity.
Following Aragon’s program, lunch will be provided by Citizens Bank, which will charcoal hamburgers, and East Central Credit Union, First United Bank, Vision Bank, Tinker Federal Credit Union, Wal-Mart, Cash Savers, OG&E and others.
Workshop speakers include Mark Campbell, vice president of Learning Counts.org from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning in Chicago, Ill., at 9 a.m. Learning Counts helps adults get training and other work/volunteer experience included on an American Council on Education (ACE) transcript.
Others are Jim Becker, public affairs officer from the Muskogee Regional Office, at 10 a.m. with an update on veterans benefits, including the latest information on VA Educational Benefits; Lauren Guhl, executive director of Pros for Vets, at 1 p.m., free legal services for veterans; and Jonathan Lopez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and program adviser for the University of Arkansas Veterans Upward Bound Program, at 2 p.m. He will talk about the “Transition to Student Veteran” and what the University of Arkansas has done to help veterans as they start to school.
Lucas Mulder, the Oklahoma representative for Student Veterans of America, will discuss that organization.
For more information, contact Mary Meeks at 580-559-5541.
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