WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 22, 2007) - The Defense Department observed Women's History Month and honored the women filling its ranks in a ceremony yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.

In an observance at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, women who have risen through the ranks to become leaders in federal service encouraged others to do same.

The event also recognized military and civilian women who have made great strides in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and who were selected by their service branches for their outstanding achievements.

"This year's observance continues to acknowledge the legacies and extraordinary accomplishments of many great trailblazers who are leading the way to ensure women are granted full participation in America and the world," Gail McGinn said as she opened the ceremony. McGinn is deputy undersecretary of defense for plans.

McGinn said showcasing to America the many talents of DoD women can help young people can set goals and fulfill endless possibilities.

She compared the opportunities of American women to those in countries like Afghanistan, where women had been barred from classrooms and weren't allowed to advance in society.

"Being the largest employer in the United States brings a great responsibility to the Department of Defense," McGinn said. "As global competitors, we are committed to carrying the torch for advancing the fundamental values of liberty and equal opportunity for all."

Women within the department have been given the opportunity to gain responsibility very quickly and have therefore made their mark on the United States, she said.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, the most highly decorated woman in U.S. military history and the woman who spearheaded the campaign for the women's memorial at Arlington, acted as the event's host.

Women were raising their right hands to serve in the military long before they were even given the right to vote, Vaught said. Their loyal service to the country helped to secure that right, which came to pass with the ratification of the Women's Suffrage Act of 1918, she said.

Vaught shared with the audience how a few military women have been on the forefront to help change laws that affected women throughout the nation. From segregation to equal military benefits, to a change in restrictions for women to serve on Navy ships, Vaught said those women were making it easier for those who followed.

"We now have women serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries," the retired general said. "They are doing things that have never been done before. But there is a price to it; we have lost 70 women there, and we honor their service."

Former DOD employee Daliza Salas, who now serves as the director of human resources at the Labor Department, told the audience about the great strides being made by women throughout the country.

She cited increasing statistics on the number of women who are graduating from college, owning their own businesses, taking management positions and narrowing the earnings gap between men.

Salas also pointed out that with an upcoming wave of projected retirements within the federal service, many women will have a better opportunity to advance through the senior ranks of government than ever before.

"I hope the women in the audience will recognize the opportunity of change in our country," Salas said. "No matter what your goals are, you can achieve your dreams. It's important to stay focused and make sure you take steps toward getting closer to them."

She encouraged the young people in the audience to be inspired by the achievements of the award winners who were recognized at the ceremony.

The 11 women were selected by their respective service branch as role models in fields that aren't normally populated by women, such as geology, toxicology and nuclear physics.

Coast Guard Cadet 2nd Class DeCarol Davis was honored for her efforts in promoting the science, math, engineering and technology fields to young girls and minority youth.

Working with students at Winthrop Elementary School in New London, Conn., Davis wrote and directed a play that incorporated engineering applications and was designed to inspire the children to follow their dreams. It was so successful that an encore performance has been requested during an upcoming regional youth competition.

"I am humbled to receive this award," Davis said. "I also find it interesting to get awarded for inspiring children, when it was the children who inspired me - to dream and to live."

(Carmen L. Gleason writes for the American Forces Press Service.)

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