At 26, Wilma Vaught was approached by an Army recruiter who promised her a commission and the opportunity to command should she join the military. She decided to join the Air Force instead, in spite of the U.S. law that prevented her from reaching the highest ranks of the military.
Ten years later, in 1967, Congress changed that law and allowed women access to the top ranks. Vaught retired a brigadier general.
After Vietnam, Vaught became the first female Air Force officer to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. She then toured Guam and then became the first woman in the Air Force to deploy with a bomber wing.
Pelosi, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden honored the accomplishments of women veterans, including Vaught. Obama called her “one of the most inspiring, trailblazing women I have ever met.”
The event also raised awareness about women veterans, known as the “invisible veterans.” Only 10% of women veterans make use of G.I. benefits, even though the largest percentage of women ever to serve in the US military has served since 9/11. This would suggest that many women veterans are not receiving the benefits they are due.
Women have been allowed to serve in the military since 1948.
Vaught pointed out that VA facilities have been adjusting to give women equal access to VA benefits. The Advisory Committee on Women Veterans began in 1983 and has helped more women veterans get gynecological exams as well as more complete physical health exams.
In 1980, Vaught received her brigadier general promotion. She was the first female to make rank in the comptroller field. Vaught retired in 1985. Today, there are three female four-star generals, two in the Army and one in the Navy.
Starting last year, women can now serve in combat posts. Also last year, two women graduated from the U.S. Army Ranger School, another first.
“We have come a long way,” Vaught said with real pride.
Image by General Wilma L. Vaught, USAF (Ret.), President of the Women In Military Service For America (WIMSA) Memorial Foundation, is interviewed by members of Air Force News at the Dedication of the WIMSA Memorial, October 18, 1997. (Photo by SSgt Renee’ Sitler) (Released)