Gen. Rita Aragon anticipates State of the Union comments on sequestration, role of women in the military

In the hours before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, it seems certain he will touch on the automatic spending reductions, including those for military expenditures, looming on March 1. 

In what could be a challenging environment for rhetorical flourishes, one sure applause line might be to remind viewers of new military policies concerning women. 

Retired Air National Guard Gen. Rita Aragon is among those Oklahoman’s eagerly anticipating certain parts of the chief executive’s speech.

In a Feb. 12 interview with CapitolBeatOK, Aragon talked about the potential impact of federal sequestration on the $15.8 billion a year Oklahoma industry based around operations at five U.S. military installations.

Aragon addressed military spending issues in practical terms, concerned over long-term effects. 

The first-year impact of the automatic cuts would be about $85 billion, meaning the military budget would still reach $3.6 trillion. After the cut, U.S. military spending would be about 22 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), above the post-World War II average of 20 percent. 

Aragon, a 28-year Guard veteran who retired as a two-star general, believes the Air Force has already absorbed a fair share of cuts in personnel and material in previous tightening, and could be hurt in a new round.

She contends, “If they cut the Air Force again, it is going to be stressed. I try to focus on the fact that when you talk about cutting military spending, it’s not all ships and planes and material, it’s people and jobs. Every one of these impact real people. This is their job.”

Oklahoma has thousands of civilian jobs laced into military work, many of them at Tinker Air Force Base east of Oklahoma City, where air craft logistics and repair is administered.

Aragon worries reductions might shift thousands of Oklahomans from gainful employment to drawing unemployment compensation. “If sequestration takes effect, I worry we could be talking about putting one of the installations at risk. That would have a major effect on Oklahoma and the entire nation.”

CapitolBeatOK previously reported Oklahoma falls close to the average of all states in terms of vulnerabilities to government spending cuts anticipated from sequestration.

Federal defense spending (procurement, salaries, wages) is 4.3 percent of state GDP, well above the 3.5 percent national average. Nondefense federal spending (procurement, salaries, wages), in contrast, is “only” 1.2 percent of state GDP, compared to the national average of 1.8 percent. 

As for the federal nondefense workforce as a percentage of all who are employed in Oklahoma, the state meets exactly the national average of 1 percent. 
In terms of the state’s vulnerabilities to government spending cuts anticipated from the fiscal cliff and possible sequestration, Oklahoma falls close the average of several indicators selected in a late 2012 report from the Pew Center on the States

Presently Secretary of Veteran Affairs in the Cabinet of Gov. Mary Fallin, Aragon also touched on the shift in policies allowing women to serve in combat roles, observing that women have already been serving at “the front lines” — a term whose meaning has grown murkier during a decade of the war on terror.

Aragon reflected, “women have been serving in some combat roles for at least 10 years. Any more, it is hard to tell where the ‘front lines’ are, especially in theatres like Afghanistan.”

Aragon noted that badges and other awards recognizing combat roles are critical in promotions for soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. For women already in combat jobs, new policies will be more just in properly recognizing achievement.

A military pioneer herself over the several decades, Aragon warned that not all women capable of serving in the military will be suited to all military roles: “They want to be, and must be, held to the same standards as their male colleagues. They must run, shoot and carry their packs to the same standard as men. Those who can’t, can’t.” 

Aragon reflected on the modern “capabilities-based military,” saying she supported combat roles and assignments for women who meet standards.     

Aragon enlisted in the Oklahoma Air National Guard in 1979, serving until 2006.  She was the first female in the U.S. to command a state Air National Guard.

At the Pentagon, her service included a stint at assistant to the deputy chief of staff for Manpower and Personnel. When not on active duty, she was an elementary school teacher and principal and was named a “excellent educator” by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.