Biden awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to Air Force legend

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Z. Erwin
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

President Joe Biden awarded retired Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House July 7.

Extending the nation’s highest civilian honor to Vaught, Biden recognized her shattering of conventions that broke down gender barriers and helped to shape new opportunities for U.S. military service members.

“Wilma’s one of the most decorated women ever to serve in the United States military,” Biden said during Thursday’s ceremony. “She enlisted in the 1950s because she wanted to become a leader. She did that, and more, becoming the first woman in almost every leadership role she held in nearly 30 years in uniform.

Following her commission as a second lieutenant in January 1957, Vaught continued to break barriers throughout her Air Force career, paving the way for other service members to strive and reach their full potential. At the time of her retirement, she was one of only seven female generals in the U.S. military.

Among her numerous accomplishments are the following firsts:

- First woman to deploy with a Strategic Air Command bombardment wing on an operational deployment
- First woman to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (since renamed The Eisenhower School)
- First woman to command a unit that received the Joint Meritorious Unit Award
- First woman to be promoted to brigadier general in the comptroller career field

Her military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal, amongst others, recognizing her distinctive achievements over her 28 years of military service.