A Patriotic Message from General Rita Aragon
Rita Aragon joined the Oklahoma National Guard for a simple reason–she needed the money. She was a single mom with two young girls, and her schoolteacher salary wasn’t enough. “I was also working fast food and as the church secretary, but I still needed my parent’s financial help to make ends meet.”
In 1979, Aragon’s friend from church suggested she join the National Guard because she could work flexible hours when school was out. Aragon was unaware that her life was about to take a major turn, leading to a 30-year career as a high-ranking officer.
Aragon enrolled as an airman basic. “I had more education than 99% of the recruits, but I took advantage of every schooling opportunity so I could understand every military function,” Aragon said.
Twenty years later, Aragon was promoted as the first woman to hold the rank of brigadier general of the Oklahoma National Guard and the first female commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. “I was proud, but it was tenuous because I realized that if I fell, it would not bode well for those coming behind me,” Gen. Aragon said. “I had some hard knocks, but the men gave me the opportunity to learn leadership.”
During Gen. Aragon’s career, she completed tours of duty around the world and at the Pentagon. Although travel was interesting, she found people to be the greatest part about National Guard service. Gen. Aragon also continued to work as an educator for 22 years, becoming an award-winning teacher and principal. She believes her teaching background led to her military success, because, she said with a laugh, “Adults are much like children.”
Her enjoyment of people also made her job more difficult, as she faced the obligation of putting lives in danger. “People in uniform are extremely conscious of the price of enlisting in the military. No one fully understands this more, except the families who are left behind when we fight or when we don’t come back.”
Gen. Aragon has vivid memories of September 11th, when a lieutenant rushed in and said, “Turn on the TV. You won’t believe what you’re going to see!” As the state commander, Gen. Aragon sent the first aircraft off to war and continued sending people to war until she retired in 2007. Retirement did not end her service, however, and in 2011, Aragon once again earned the “first woman” role, this time as Secretary of Veterans Affairs under Governor Mary Fallin.
Currently, Gen. Aragon serves on Edmond’s Veterans Memorial Committee, raising funds to honor fellow military members. “We’ve been designing a spectacular memorial,” Gen. Aragon said. “I’m proud to live in Edmond, because it’s one of the most patriotic towns in Oklahoma, and there are a number of Veterans Day ceremonies scheduled in Edmond on November 11th. Veterans Day honors the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—the moment World War I ended. It’s an important day to recognize the cost of freedom.”
Protecting freedom is a common theme as Gen. Aragon speaks to groups because although her military time has ended, her mission has not. “Thank veterans for their service,” she urges. “It takes people to defend America. Veterans willingly stand in the breach of those who would take over America and defeat her; of those who would break down our democracy because they’d love to have our wealth, resources and people. The military, both past and present, stand between us and those who would take over. Please thank them. I do, every day.”