Rita Bly Aragon
Rita Bly Aragon
“People join the military for a variety of reasons. I joined out of desperation and fell in love with the mission. I certainly fell in love with the patriotism of those people who wear our nation’s uniform. It is so inspiring to be around them.”
From Dale, Oklahoma, Major General Aragon served as the first female General Officer, first female commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, and first woman in the United States to command a state’s Air National Guard. She was selected as the first woman and fourth Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the State of Oklahoma in 2010.
An award-winning educator prior to joining the military to supplement her income as a single mother of two daughters, Aragon taught kindergarten through seventh grade before becoming an administrator in Oklahoma City’s public school system. She was named “Principal of the Year” in 1988 and 1992 and the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce Excellent Educator of the Year in 1990.
At the age of 30, she enlisted in the Oklahoma Air National Guard and became a draftsman apprentice with the 219th Engineering Installation Squadron in Oklahoma City. She received her commission through the Academy of Military Science in Knoxville, Tennessee, and returned to the 219th as an administrative officer. In February 1989, Aragon became the first female commander in the Oklahoma Air National Guard when she assumed command of the 137th Services Flight at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base.
During her career she served two tours in the Pentagon—as Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and as Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force for Manpower and Personnel. She was the senior Air National Guard officer responsible for military and civilian personnel management, education, training, and resource allocation.
The American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma, YWCA, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, INTEGRIS Health Edmond, 4 Star Leadership for Gen. Tommy Franks, Folds of Honor, and Honoring America’s Warriors Foundations, among others, have benefited from her leadership.
Aragon’s awards and honors include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with 2 devices, Air Force Commendation, Army Commendation, Global War on Terrorism, Humanitarian Service Medal, and Legion of Merit. She has been named Oklahoma’s Woman of the Year by The Journal Record, Oklahoma Woman Veteran of the Year by the War Veterans Commission of Oklahoma, and Diversity Journal’s 100 Women in America to Watch, Leadership Fellow at Oklahoma Christian University, inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame, and is the recipient of the Valley Forge Freedom Award.
Aragon became the first woman in Oklahoma to command a unit, to command a base, and ultimately to command the entire Oklahoma Air Guard.
Aragon was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and served the state for her entire career.