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Retired Maj. Gen. Mary Saunders speaks to guests during a Rotary Club luncheon Thursday at El Chaparral Grille in Denton.

With Veterans Day around the corner, the Rotary Club of Denton hosted retired Maj. Gen. Mary Saunders on Thursday and honored its members who served in the military during its weekly meeting at El Chaparral Grille in Denton.

During her 34 years in the U.S. Air Force, Saunders rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the first female officer to be selected as director of transportation.

Saunders spoke to more than 50 members and guests about women in the military, the changes she witnessed during her service and the state of the nation.

“I think we are all becoming a little complacent,” Saunders said. “We all say, ‘Oh we’re so great, the United States is so wonderful,’ and we are, but you have to look ahead.”

Saunders currently serves as the executive director of Texas Woman’s University’s Center for Student Leadership and was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012. She advises students using the skills she gained during her time in the military.

“We talk to our students about not focusing on what’s happening now,” Saunders said. “We ask them where they want to be in 15 years because you have to prepare to get there. You don’t just show up there. You have to prepare.”

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Retired Maj. Gen. Mary Saunders, standing middle, speaks with guests Thursday during a Rotary Club luncheon at El Chaparral Grille in Denton.

As the first female officer in the Air Force to serve as director of transportation, Saunders said women in the military have come a long way since she first entered into active duty in 1971.

“When I first came into service, there were not many women,” Saunders said. “Now, almost every service is at least 20% to 25% women, and things are going just fine.”

While Saunders admitted she has never worked for a woman, she said she was able to advance in the Air Force because she focused on the objectives of her missions.

“It’s about the mission,” Saunders said. “They didn’t care what color I am. They don’t care what gender I am. As long as I can get the job done, they would say, ‘Come on down.’”

Following her speech, Saunders opened the floor to questions from members of the club and was asked how she would handle the physical and mental health of veterans.

“We need to get veterans more involved,” Saunders said. “It’s a problem I see regularly. If people haven’t served, then it’s easier not to understand the problems they face. It’s easier to look at it like it’s just a job.”

Condell Garden, club president and a U.S. Army veteran, said her club was happy to host Saunders before Veterans Day.

“She’s very motivating and lights a fire under people,” Garden said. “We’re very impressed with her and her programs that she has started at TWU that help veterans.”

Before Saunders’ speech, members chatted over lunch and the club admitted two new members. Garden then asked all the veterans to stand so their fellow club members could recognize them for their service.

“The general [Saunders] summed it up pretty well — veterans know how to get things done,” Garden said. “It’s not a matter of questioning things to death. It’s about getting out there and doing it.”

JESSE BRACKEEN can be reached via Twitter at @BrackeenJesse.

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