ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- No seats were left empty in Heritage Hall during the Women's History Month Observance, here, March 23.

This year's theme is "Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives," and marks the 35th anniversary of the Women's History Movement, and National Women's History Project.

The event began with the national anthem, sung by Jereen Phillips-Hardin and Everline Barnard, both of U.S. Army Sustainment Command. After the invocation, led by ASC Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Robert Land, a short video entitled "Women's History Month Movement" was shown, followed by a presentation of Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Women," recited by Tyla Cole, archivist, Diocese of Davenport.

Kathryn Szymanski, chief counsel, ASC, was the guest speaker.

"Young women now need to know where they want to go earlier in their career," she said. "It took me ten years to go from a GS-05 to a GS-15, then to an SES. That kind of timeline is compressing, and women need to understand that they need to get their training and be serious about this a lot sooner than I was."

In 1995, Szymanski was appointed to the Senior Executive Service, which is the corps of federal executives appointed to key leadership positions just below the level of presidential appointees. She currently serves as the primary legal adviser for the Joint Munitions Command and ASC.

"There is more gender equity in the senior executive service than there used to be, but it's still somewhat tough to get into the higher ranks for women, because they don't know the rules," said Szymanski. "There are spoken rules, and there are unspoken rules. They need mentors to help them navigate the unspoken rules."

The Army's current top priority is Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention. SHARP incidents in the national media are often related to young female Soldiers, but Szymanski noted that these incidents can happen at all levels.

"Sexual harassment and sexual assault does happen at the senior levels," she said. "There was a time when a senior government employee, a presidential appointee, decided to get grabby-hands with me. He thought it was his right to do so. It doesn't stop at a certain level, and you need to be aware of that. You have to stay prepared to deal with those issues."

Asked about the progress she's seen in her career regarding gender equality, Szymanski said: "The government is very good about equal pay for equal grade. Not necessarily about equal work, but equal grade. Women are no longer expected to come in as a GS-01 or a GS-02.

"I think that as women stay in the work force, especially the younger generation, they have to make sure we don't lose the gains that we're making. Not just for them, but for everybody. Men take advantage of those changes also, so it's across the board."

In 1981 Congress passed legislation authorizing and requesting the president to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as Women's History Week. After being petitioned by the National Women's History Project, Congress passed a law in 1987 designating March as Women's History Month. Every President since has issued proclamations for the occasion.