FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, D.C. -- National Women's Equality Day is celebrated annually on August 26. The day commemorates the addition of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote.
Women have served the Army since 1775 and remain an invaluable and essential part of the Army today. The Army is dedicated to ensuring equality for all of its members.
Today women, like Master Sgt. Yvette Edmonds, a religious affairs specialists with U.S. Military District of Washington, make up 17.4 percent of the Army.
"What I want people to understand about women serving in the Army is that it is equal," said the Queens, New York native. "We put on our boots and go to battle to fight just like the males do. It's not a gender thing, it's about being a team. There are things that are just harder for the female body do, but it doesn't mean we won't push hard and get it done."
Edmonds, the daughter of retired military parents Monica and Everette Carr, originally enlisted into the National Guard in April 1998.
"My dad was in the Air Force and my mom was in the Army, so the biggest thing is who side do I support Air force or Army," she said with a chuckle.
Both are very supportive, however, the friendly rivalry between the two branches still continues, she said.
She planned to take advantage of the educational benefits following her initial training.
"During that time of my life I was going back and forth trying to finish college," she said. "I was just trying to figure out who and where I wanted to be, but I had student loans and that is what the driving force in joining the National Guard."
Her passion for helping others led her to seek a career in social work.
"I always say there are three types of people in the world," Edmonds said. "People in a storm, people coming out of a storm and people headed to a storm."
Edmonds attended basic combat training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Advance Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. While she attended AIT, her drill sergeant left a lasting impression on the then private first class.
"Everything flipped when I went to AIT," Edmonds said, with a smile. "My drill sergeant was also a [religious affairs specialist] and while I was there she saw the potential in me. Eventually she told me I should go on active duty."
At the time Edmonds believed that going active duty was not a possibility. She did not have any intentions of diverting from her plans with the National Guard.
"When she told me that she could get me on active duty in 30 days, I called her bluff," she recalled lightheartedly. "I only told her I would go active duty because I was so sure she wouldn't be able to make it happen, but sure enough in 30 days I was active."
Edmonds was unsure how her passion for helping others could be applied in the structured and disciplined ranks of the military.
"I really wanted a career that allowed me to help others and make a difference in people's lives," she said. "[The drill sergeant] said 'think of all the Soldiers and families you could be helping with everything you bring to the table from the perspective of social work'. That changed my thought process and I saw all of the possibilities."
Religion has always been a major part of Edmonds life. She credits her mother, a minister, for instilling such a strong faith in her.
"I always give credit to my mom," she said. "My faith drives me every day, it what keeps me motivated. When everything else fails I still have my spiritual life. Spiritual fitness is the core of resiliency."
Nothing could have prepared her for how her faith would be tested July 20, 2011, while on her third deployment to forward operating base Shank, located in the Logar province of Eastern Afghanistan.
While waiting for dinner in a small building, Edmonds, along with two others, donned their protective equipment and prepared to move to a bunker for protection.
"I'll never forget it, it happened on a Sunday and we had just finished service," she said. "We had been getting incoming nonstop all day, we needed to get to the bunker. As soon as I opened the door a mortar came in and hit the back of the building."
The impact of the blast pulled Edmonds back into the building, landing her head first onto a glass table, shattering the glass.
"The next thing I remember after the blast was waking up in the hospital surrounded by nurses," she recalled. "It was a scary moment because I couldn't feel anything, I didn't know what parts of my body were left."
She was immediately medevac'd to Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, to receive medical care. Not knowing the extent of her injuries troubled Edmonds.
"I can honestly say that suicide entered my mind in those [initial] moments," she remembered. "I questioned what kind of life I would have if I didn't have my legs or arms."
As she laid on the operating table, a chaplain came to comfort her. He assured her that everything was going to be fine and that her legs and arms where intact.
"That sense of relief in that moment just put everything back in drive for me," Edmonds said. "It was like I was stuck between gears and in that moment I was finally able to shift and get everything back moving."
After a few weeks of recovery in the hospital, Edmonds returned back to her unit to carry out the remainder of the deployment with her Soldiers.
"My whole drive was my Soldiers," she said with conviction. "I had to get better so I could get my Soldiers back home. I didn't want to leave with any of them still on the ground. I had looked mothers, wives and children in the eyes and told them I'd bring their [loved ones] back home."
The event also strengthened her faith.
"That event changed my faith," she said. "It took it to another level, it showed me the coverage that God had over my life. The fact that I am here to talk about it now is a testament to that."
The experience also challenged common generalizations.
"It changed my whole thought process of how real a war can be," Edmonds said. "As chaplain's assistants and women, people think we don't or can't do a lot. That's not true, here we are doing battle field circulations getting blown up just like everyone else. Bullets have no [military occupation specialty] or gender assigned to them."
For her actions, Edmonds was awarded the Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military.
When presented the opportunity to medically retire, Edmonds declined.
"It was a pivotal moment in my career," she said. "I choose to stay on and finish my time serving. My experience in the Army has been wonderful. Through all trials and difficult times, even being blown up, I still love the Army and that's why I didn't medically retire."
Edmonds looks forward to celebrating 20 years of service to the country.
"It's been an amazing 20 years, from [private first class] to master sergeant," she said. "Getting to see the Army change, I wouldn't ever change my decision to go active duty."