Video by Ilea Shutler. Produced by Dick Pryor.
“Conversations” is a series of video interviews with Oklahomans about subjects that relate to some of the state’s important issues. The 2016-2017 series is sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation and is made possible by a grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News.
Even decades ago, the pay in education wasn’t enough for a single mother with two children to make ends meet.
Rita Aragon’s husband had died in a motorcycle accident. She was an elementary schoolteacher, then a principal, but also working at McDonald’s and as a church secretary. Friends suggested she join the Air National Guard.
That placed Aragon on a path to historic breakthroughs. She became the first woman, and first Native American woman (Cherokee and Choctaw), commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard in 1989 and the first woman named brigadier general in the U.S. Air National Guard. She rose to major general in 2005, retired in 2006, and was named Oklahoma secretary of military and veterans affairs in 2010, shifting to governor’s liaison for veterans affairs in 2015.
Along the way, Aragon, who grew up in Dale, became a passionate advocate for the talents, values and needs of military veterans.
“(Veterans) just need a voice. and I”m that big, loud mouth,” Aragon once told the OKC Friday newspaper.