Rita Aragon, Oklahoma’s secretary of veterans and military affairs and a retired Air Force major general, will speak at the Veterans and Military Appreciation Day program Thursday, May 24 at East Central University.
The day’s activities are free, open to the public and are come-and-go in the Bill S. Cole University Center beginning at 8:30 a.m. Workshops for veterans and their families will be conducted at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The Appreciation Day program with Aragon and other presentations will begin at 11 a.m.
“There will be lots of good information for individuals in the military, past or present, and their family members,” said Mary Meeks, director of ECU’s Veterans Upward Bound program which sponsors Appreciation Day. “With the large number of National Guard members we have in this area, we would really like to reach out to the service members and their families from the 45th Infantry Brigade.”
The workshops and the Appreciation Day program will be held in the Estep Multimedia Center in the University Center. Lunch will be provided for all attendees immediately following the program that will begin at 11 a.m.
The 9 a.m. workshop, “Making the Transition,” will be conducted by Jamie Mucciarelli, program coordinator of mental health research at Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.
Mucciarelli specializes in the study of functional disability among veterans suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar illnesses. She draws on her 12 years of service in the Air Force to advocate for veterans unaware of the resources available to them and help rural veterans who live far from major medical facilities get the care they need.
As a mental health service specialist, she was deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996 to provide immediate mental health intervention to the survivors of the terrorist attack on Khobar Towers that killed 19 U.S. service members.
When the Air Force downsized the mental health career field, Mucciarelli became a C-130 loadmaster in 2003 and served three tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
The 10 a.m. workshop will provide an update on VA education benefits. The speaker will be Judy Hernandez, education liaison representative at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Muskogee Regional Office.
The 1 p.m. workshop, Employment Opportunities for Veterans, will be an update on PEI Worldwide Inc. and Green Things Inc. by Gifford Ludwigsen, Barry Hemphill and Mike Morrison.
Aragon, who also spoke at the Appreciation Day program last year, retired from the 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.
She joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard out of desperation in 1979 in order to support her two children. She 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.
Aragon 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.
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 was the first female brigadier general in the Oklahoma National Guard and became the first female commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard in March 2003. She was the first female to command a state’s Air National Guard.
Aragon 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 will recognize VUB participants Tammy Kercheval, James Kercheval and Kim Hayes who were included in a booklet published by the Oklahoma Division of Student Assistance, and Tasha Kindt, ECU’s candidate for a $1,000 scholarship from the National Association of Veterans Upward Bound Programs.
Meeks and Gen. Myles Deering, adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, will recognize Capt. Kevin Roland, former director of ECU’s Guard Officers Leadership Development Program.
“He has been a great supporter and advocate for VUB, for ECU and certainly for the military service members in the Oklahoma National Guard, especially those in the GOLD Program,” Meeks said.
Evelyn Martin, director of the Educational Opportunity Center, will talk about ECU’s new Veterans and Military Resource Center in the Memorial Student Union. Deborah Reheard, past president of the Oklahoma Bar Association and executive director of Pros 4 Vets, will discuss both organizations. The Oklahoma Bar Association is offering free legal assistance to veterans.
Jonathon Lunardi, CEO of Veteran Central Platform, will make a brief presentation about this new website and social network for veterans. The website is designed to help veterans, those in the military and their families and is geared toward employment and other assistance.
Citizens Bank of Ada will cook hamburgers for participants and door prizes will be awarded.