By Spc. Noelle E. WieheAugust 24, 2017
FORT STEWART, Ga. -- The Fort Stewart, Georgia, community paid tribute to women and their achievements throughout history during the 3rd Infantry Division Women's Equality Day observance Aug. 23 at Club Stewart.
"For being the year 2017 and still having to use the phrases of, 'the first female commander,' or 'the first female Ranger School graduates,' tells people how important and prevalent Women's Equality Day still is," said Sgt. 1st Class Shaun Williamson, equal opportunity advisor, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Inf. Div.
Williamson said the observance served to educate people on women's equality and bring light to unknown strides made for and by women throughout history.
The observance recognizing Women's Equality Day was established by Joint Resolution of Congress in 1971. The day is observed on the 26th day of August and commemorates the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. Fort Stewart, Georgia, recognized the day on the 23rd in order to maximize the impact of the observance on post.
The observance has grown to include focusing attention on women's continued efforts toward gaining full equality.
Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, U.S. Army Forces Command deputy commanding general, guest speaker at the observance, spoke to the Soldiers and community members about the impact two milestones for women throughout history have had on her career.
The first milestone she discussed as important to her as an Army helicopter pilot was the formation during World War II of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, due to the shortage of pilots at that time. She said although the WASPs donned military uniforms and performed military pilot duties, they did not have a military status when they returned home, but instead gained the status in 1977 -- 35 years later.
Richardson said she was working with the United States Senate in 2010 and was in attendance when the WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
She said the branch insignia that the WASPs wore is the aviation branch insignia that the Army has today.
"It was just incredible to see that we had a whole generation of folks who had spearheaded this equality back in World War II," Richardson said.
Richardson said she started flying at the age of 15 and obtained her private pilot license at 16. She said she made about all the mistakes a new pilot can make during that time.
"By the time I went to ROTC, was in college and I graduated, I think I kind of made it easy for the Army to choose me as an Army aviator," Richardson said, noting that September marks 31 years for her as an Army aviator.
The second instance Richardson highlighted was Title IX in 1972, which prohibited any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance from excluding persons based on sex.
Richardson said that since athletic programs are considered educational programs, within Title IX, females could participate in sports and receive athletic scholarships.
After being exposed to several different sports, Richardson took on swimming. She was a high school and a college state champion and achieved all-American.
"What I didn't realize is at the time that I was in high school, in 1979, there were girls' sports -- I had no clue that just seven years earlier, there weren't girls' sports in high school, in college," she said. "I just thought that that was the way it always was."
Richardson said she is a firm believer that growing up in sports her entire life before joining the Army was a huge benefit to her as a Soldier.
"As I've talked about and shared with you some of the impacts of history on my life, I know that I certainly wouldn't be here in this capacity without the changes that really started back in 1920," Richardson said.
The leaders she had along the way to mentor and coach her in the Army were actually all men, she said, noting that there weren't as many women in the Army then as there are today.
"As professionals in the Army, it doesn't matter if you're a male or a female coach or mentor; we are professionals and we have the responsibility to train, coach and mentor all of our Soldiers," Richardson said.