JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --"A lot of times men and women do things differently because of their different capabilities; but the question is: can you get over the wall?" said Brenda "Sue" Fulton, graduate of West Point's Class of 1980, the first Academy class to include women.
Fulton, appointed by President Obama in 2011 as a Member on the U.S. Military Academy Board of Visitors, served as guest speaker for a Women's Equality Day observance hosted by the 174th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Aug. 19.
During her speech, Fulton recounted one specific obstacle at the Academy she believes holds a valuable lesson for all. She described an obstacle course that included a wall approximately 8 feet tall. The instructors told the cadets to run up to the wall, grab onto the top, pull themselves up using their chest muscles, and then flip over.
"This works great as long as your center of gravity is somewhere around your shoulders," Fulton said, as the audience chuckled. "Anybody else see a problem with that?"
Many of the women tried it that way, Fulton said, but they eventually realized the best way to get over that wall was to grab on, hook an ankle over the top, and then use their leg strength to pull themselves over.
"We figured it out, got over the wall, and eventually that's how the instructors started teaching it. I think that's one of the biggest lessons learned: you just have to get over the wall," expressed Fulton.
Earlier in 2013 the Army expanded the role of women to include opportunities previously closed to them.
"I have three daughters and two granddaughters," said Osborne, 174th Infantry Brigade Commander, host, "They all mean the world to me. If I ever thought that my daughters or granddaughters would be limited in the world simply because of the gender in which they were born, I would be devastated. They all deserve equal rights and opportunities."
Women continue to get over the wall. Fulton, a founder of OutServe and a founding board member of Knights Out, a group of West Point Alumni that support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender soldiers, shared that we still do not know the full capacity of women.
"Every time we're told that women can't do something, one of them goes and does it," she added. "It's just a matter of time."
Fulton explained that it all boils down to being able to tap into creativity in problem-solving through diversity.
"I don't need to tell anyone here that you never know exactly what your problems are going to look like downrange," said Fulton. "You train and you train and you train, but you need to be able to think differently, to think creatively, and to solve problems in the best way possible. If everybody is thinking exactly the same, there are some missions you can do very well; but as soon as a different problem comes, you don't have enough creativity to solve it. Our strength and creativity come from our diversity."
"As a military, we're better for having women in our ranks," said Osborne. "As a nation, we're better because we can leverage the skills and abilities of both men and women -- every member of our society."
One such local woman who impacted the women's equality movement was Alice Paul. Participants in the observance learned not only from Fulton's life and personal experiences, but also through an educational video from the Alice Paul Institute in Mount Laurel, N.J., which added perspective to the struggle for women's equality in America.
Born in 1885, Alice Paul dedicated her life to gaining equal rights for women. The video depicted the struggle leading up to Women's Suffrage and the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1919, granting women the right to vote. It continued to illustrate Paul's life's work for women's equality until her passing in 1977. Women like Paul were jailed during protest activities. Some engaged in subsequent hunger strikes while imprisoned, and then endured the excruciatingly painful process of being force-fed through nasal tubes.
"There's a lot more to the Women's Suffrage movement and women's rights than you're taught in school," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Standish, one of the observance attendees and a Trainer/Mentor with 2nd Battalion, 309th Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade. "Even more than I realized."
"I'm thankful for my own mother," Standish shared. "She didn't get into any newspapers or anything, but she believed and taught me that no matter who you are, you can achieve anything you want, and that you have the right to do so. It's because of my mom and seeing the struggles she went through that I have a lot higher respect for women."