Today, the nation can acknowledge nearly 100 years of progress in the struggle for women's equality, said Del. Jill P. Carter.

"In 2013, we all should be proud of what we have achieved collectively, men and women, in the century-long struggle for gender equality," she said. "We can take pride for knowing where we've been and how far we have progressed."

Carter, who represents District 41 as a Baltimore delegate of the Maryland legislature, was the keynote speaker at Fort Meade's annual observance of Women's Equality Day.

The hourlong program, held Aug. 22 at McGill Training Center, drew 300 service members and civilians. The event was hosted by U.S. Cyber Command and the Fort Meade Equal Opportunity Office.

In 1971, at the behest of then-New York Rep. Bella Abzug, Congress designated Aug. 26 as Women's Equality Day to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, which grants women the right to right.

In her welcome, Navy Rear Adm. Margaret DeLuca Klein, chief of staff, U.S. Cyber Command, spoke about the contributions and progress of women in the military.

During World Wars I and II, women served in the Army Nurse Corps, the Women's Army Corps and the Navy Nurse Corps. In some cases, Klein said, women were test pilots for fighter planes in the Army and Navy. In 1979, the military standardized the enlistment requirements for men and women.

"It's a pretty remarkable story," said Klein, noting that within the more than 30 years since she began her career in the Navy, the military has "standardized and equalized the treatment of male and female commissioned officers." The ban prohibiting women from serving in combat was removed earlier this year.

"So women now have the same opportunities," Klein said. "Opportunities are sometimes challenges, there are sometimes risks, but they're always worth taking."

The observance began with the singing of the National Anthem by Master Sgt. Marva Lewis, lead vocalist for the U.S. Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors. Chaplain (Col.) David Smith, chaplain for U.S. Army Cyber Command, gave the invocation.

In her speech, Carter acknowledged how the struggle for gender equality has opened doors for women in both politics and the military.

"Our pride comes from pushing through the glass ceiling, or at least puncturing it and making permanent holes or cracks in its structure, as we watch women's presence grow in roles and career paths that were historically not available or open to us," Carter said.

Carter is the third black female attorney to be elected to the government body. She is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and chairs the Juvenile Law subcommittee. She also is a member of the Legislative Black Caucus and chair of the Law and Justice Committee.

Carter noted the achievements of Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, the first female chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, and Judge Shirley Watt, who serves on the Sixth Appellate Judicial Circuit of the Maryland Court of Appeals and is the first black woman to be appointed to the court.

"All across America, in all professions, the presence of women is vastly expanding, and with that expansion comes notable progress on the path to equality," Carter said.

Maryland is a leading state in regard to female representation, said Carter. That ranges from the contributions of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the U.S. Congress, to the Maryland General Assembly, which includes 55 women.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is the second woman to serve as mayor of Baltimore. She also attended the same high school as Carter.

Carter also acknowledged the 62 women who were the first female graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in May 1980. They became the Army's first female second lieutenants.

"These women are pioneers," Carter said.

The service and sacrifice of women in U.S. conflicts and wars from Kosovo to Afghanistan have been "phenomenal," Carter said.

"In celebrating the right to vote, we also celebrate the right to serve and the right to have our voices heard," she said, acknowledging the repeal on the ban for women in combat.

"As I look around this audience I see women in uniform ... and I am proud that our nation, as it approaches more than 100 years of women's suffrage, can now celebrate a military that's comprised of close to 350,000 women -- a military near the end of a 10-year war in which women can now serve in every capacity and can serve as proudly and bravely as their male counterparts."

Earlier in her speech, Carter acknowledged the contributions of American suffragists and how their efforts to win women the right to vote have translated into progress for women throughout society.

"We can best give homage to the brave and tenacious efforts of those great suffragists," said Carter, noting the dedication of Alice Paul, Elizabeth C. Stanton, Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony.

Americans, therefore, should exercise their right to vote, not only in national elections, but in state and local elections where participation often counts the most, Carter said.

"That is where our votes count, and elections are often won and lost by just a handful of votes," she said. "That is where we can make the greatest impact in our communities."

Before the close of the program, Lewis sang "In My Life" by The Beatles, accompanied by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Epley, a guitarist with the Jazz Ambassadors.

Following the performance, Col. Scott Sanborn, chief of staff, U.S. Army Cyber Command, and Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley presented Carter with a plaque of appreciation.

Sanborn also presented Klein with the Army Cyber Commanding General coin.

After the event, Capt. Gayle Fisher, clinical nurse-in-charge at the Mult-Service Clinic at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center, commented on why the equal status of women in the military is important.

"We're just as good as anybody else," she said. "It's wonderful to be given the opportunity to prove ourselves."