By Sgt. 1st Class Sheryl Lawry, 500th Military Intelligence BrigadeSeptember 2, 2008
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - With Nov. 3 just around the corner, when Americans - men and women - will turn out in multitudes to elect the 44th President of the United States, it seems fitting that this year's Women's Equality Day theme was "Celebrating Women's Right to Vote." Hosted by the 500th Military Intelligence Brigade, the Women's Equality Day event at the Sgt. Smith Theater here drew a crowd of more than 200 Soldiers. "Women are survivors," said the guest speaker, Chaplain (Maj.) Lucy Der-Garabedian, who knows how significant it is for women to have their voices be heard through voting. "We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go." Der-Garabedian, who is the chaplain for the 500th MI Bde., shared her experiences as a female raised in Lebanon, her struggle to continue her education in America, and her first experiences as a new chaplain and officer in the U.S. Army. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Der-Garabedian said she was raised in a country where rights for women don't exist and where the Women's Rights Movement has yet to be truly developed. "In other cultures, the only place a female belonged to was in your house taking care of children; yet, all the decisions are for your spouse to make," she explained. "We are blessed to live where we can have a voice." In Lebanon, Der-Garabedian's educational choices were limited. The only topic of study females were allowed to pursue was Christian education. With the help of missionaries Der-Garabedian knew, she said, she would make the most of her circumstances. "In Lebanon, I learned to survive," she said. "Through lots of challenges, I was able to get my bachelor's degree." That survival spirit came in handy when she arrived in the U.S. on a student visa to continue her education at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, but then soon after learned she had lost her scholarship. "My personal struggles really started when I came to the U.S.," she said. "Here I was in the States, in the seminary, with no money and I couldn't work." Through babysitting and taking care of dogs, Der-Garabedian put herself through school, again surviving and beating the odds. Then came an all-new challenge, the U.S. Army. "If someone told me eighteen years ago that I would be a chaplain in the U.S. Army, I would have said I appreciate your imagination," Der-Garabedian said. Yet, that was exactly where she found herself. She also found herself in a world that was again different and challenging to be a woman. Learning to overcome personality and moral differences with the same sense of spirit that drove her to earn her degrees in Lebanon and America - the spirit of survival, Der-Garabedian encourages females and males to lift up their challenges and see the light at the end of the tunnel. During Der-Garabedian's inspirational message, she paused three times to reflect at the piano where she played three original pieces she composed. The time gave audience members time to reflect on her message as well. "She is a very good role model, and her experiences and education inspire me," said Sgt. Andrea Denetso, a member of the 500th MI Bde., Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "I don't have to work as much as the women before me. I feel like they did all the work, and we are just continuing the movement." "That was exceptional," said Lt. Col. Stephen Zarbo, 500th MI Bde. deputy commander, about the presentation. "This was first rate ... You make me proud."