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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | Aug. 27, 2013

Duty, Honor, Pride: Brig. Gen. Vaught speaks on women's equality at The Club

By Ms. Amber J. Russell 11th Wing Public Affairs

One of the most highly-decorated women in the U.S. Air Force appeared as special guest speaker, Aug. 23, at a Women's Equality Day event hosted by Col. Bill Knight, 11th Wing/Joint Base Andrews commander, at The Club at Joint Base Andrews, Md.

Retired Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught commemorated the occasion by sharing her experiences of 28 years in the military; many of which forged a way forward for service women today. Vaught is among a select few women in the world to achieve the distinction of being promoted to Brigadier General and the only woman in a 22-year time frame to achieve general officer rank in the comptroller field.

The Scotland, Ill., native said she felt especially privileged to speak at the same base she was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in 1980.

She began her story by stating women in the military have struggled for equity since the beginning.

"It means a lot to me to speak with women today, so they understand the past and can have hope for the future," Vaught said. "It's also interesting when there are men to hear this story so they understand the inequities of the barriers placed in women's path.

"As we think about gender, injustice and inequality we must look back on history to see how far we have come," she said. "The military is one of the very few career fields for women that exist by law; many barriers for service women have been overcome with lawsuits," Vaught said, prior to reflecting on our nation's founding document.

The honorable phrase, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" did not apply to everyone at the time it was written, she said.

"They weren't speaking for everyone, they were speaking for men. They weren't just speaking about men but about white men. They weren't speaking only about white men, but white men with property. The rest of us were left out."

At the event, Vaught attributed Abigail Adams with initiating the women's suffrage movement in a letter to her husband, former President John Adams, petitioning him to "remember the ladies in the new code of laws."

After decades of protesting, the efforts of activists such as, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott paved a way for women such as Vaught to keep fighting the good fight for women's equal opportunities.

Time after time barriers were placed in the way for women's job opportunities, education and promotion in the military. But the lack of manpower and urgency to protect the nation required women to serve during emergencies or crisis, Vaught said. After supporting major contingencies, women were told their service was not needed anymore and had to go away.

It wasn't until 1967 former President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a measure finally permitting women to be promoted to the level of generals and admirals. That same law also lifted the quotas that had been placed on women in achieving other ranks.

Vaught, a Vietnam veteran, was a key player in our country's military history. Having fought for her accolades with integrity and effort, she proved to be a ground-breaking pioneer as one of the few military women who served in the war, and not as a nurse. She paved the way for rights of women in the service.

In 1985, Vaught retired as one of three female generals in the U.S. Armed Forces; even after retirement she continues to lead service women with her positive endeavors.

As president of Women in Military Service for America foundation, she led the dedication of the Women's Memorial which stands at the gateway of the Arlington memorial cemetery. It is the nation's only major memorial to pay tribute to the more than 2.5 million women who have served in military roles since America was founded, she said.

"Thank you for all you have done," said Knight. "You are a national treasure. Looking around the room it is evident things are changing, doors are opening and well-qualified service members are taking advantage of opportunities you helped to create."