WASHINGTON (March 26, 2014) -- The rich history of women in the military paved the way for today's servicewomen, two general officers said at a Capitol Hill Women's History Month event here yesterday.

Lt. Gen. Flora D. Darpino, the Army's judge advocate general, and Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, deputy chief of staff of the Army Reserve, discussed the evolution of women's careers in the military at the "Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment" event.

Darpino said when she joined the Army, women made up just 8 percent of the JAG corps. "At my first duty assignment, my [male] boss said, 'I told them not to send me a woman, but they sent you anyway,'" she told the audience.

But what resonated with her was a positive reaction, Darpino said, adding that she knew she had been sent do a job for which she was best suited, regardless of her gender. From that point on, Darpino said, a couple of realizations carried her through a career that has led her to become the first woman to take charge of the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps.

"Be empowered by people who don't get it," the general said, reiterating that she knew she was put in her job because the Army knew she was good at what she did.

"Never walk away from a challenge," she said. "I was given opportunities as a woman. … if I had not taken those challenges, I would have admitted defeat. Accept challenges you've been given and feel empowered by those who underestimate you and your capabilities."

Smith said that unlike Darpino, the lessons she learned came about later in her career.

When she found herself as the only female officer in her early assignments, Smith said, she thought it was because that was just the way it always had been.

"I knew so little about my own strength," she said, adding that one day, she had "an accidental moment, which is sometimes the best learning experience."

Smith said she was scheduled to address an audience of former Women's Army Corps members, and while mingling with them before the event, she got to hear some of the women's stories about their Army service. But the one that struck her the most was from a small, 89-year-old woman she called "Little Bits."

"What would you want me to know about you and your service" Smith said she asked her. "The soldier stood up straight, and was bigger than life. She said, 'The most important thing I would like for you to know is that I was a Soldier. I am a Soldier.'

"Looking back over her life, she was most proud of being a Soldier," Smith continued. "Someone asked me how I busted through the glass ceiling. I didn't bust through it at all. All I did was pass through the hole that was already made by all the women who busted through it on my behalf."

Smith told the Capitol Hill audience that she feels privileged to wear her uniform.

"And now since I know 'Little Bits,'" she added, "I stand up a little taller, a little straighter, and I realize it was those women who had the courage, commitment and character to make that hole in the glass ceiling for me, and I wear this uniform in pride for them."