CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Army News Service, March 28, 2007) - Adversity is a part of life, as women have learned throughout history. For many years women were treated as lesser individuals, unequal in the eyes of men.

It was not until 1916 that the first woman was allowed to serve alongside men in congress, said Lt. Col. Holly Cook, the 1st Cavalry Division staff judge advocate. Four years later, women finally received the right to vote when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed.

The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cav. Div., welcomed Cook along with Iraqi native Suzan (full name withheld for security purposes), a lawyer who works with coalition forces, as guest speakers during a Women's History Month celebration hosted by 615th "Cold Steel" Aviation Support Battalion at Camp Taji, Iraq, March 19.

The theme for Women's History Month this year is "Generations of women moving history forward."

"So often, we as both Soldiers and Americans do not have an appreciation for the struggles and sacrifices of those who preceded us. With little or no reward or recognition, women have led progress in our country and military forces since the birth of our nation," said Lt. Col. Mark Hirschinger, 615th ASB commander.

He reminded the audience of such prominent heroines as Dr. Mary Walker.

"Dr. Mary Walker was a prisoner of war during the Civil War and the first and only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for her military service," said Hirschinger.

Following Hirschinger, Cook spoke about the importance of diversity in the Army.

The reason we celebrate and honor the many different groups in the Army is not to single out any particular race or gender, said Cook, but to recognize their achievements and contributions, take pride in them and learn from them.

Still, she did not want to lessen the fact that all Soldiers in the Army - whatever their race or gender - are important.

"... let me state one central truth about military history. No one in the military accomplishes anything because he or she is a woman or man, black or white or Hispanic. We make things happen because we are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Competence is our watchword," she said.

The highlight of the celebration was Suzan's speech. She talked about the hardships Iraqi women face each day.

"Traditions and customs have the essential role of controlling the Iraqi woman's personality ... and have caused the loss of her identity. She was torn between accepting those traditions and customs or rejecting them. She had the knowledge and vision to build a productive society but she couldn't escape the burdens imposed by traditions," she told the audience.

These customs and traditions put Suzan's life in danger every time she walks out the front door of her house to go to work. Not the traditional stereotype, Suzan stands out among her peers in a dress suit - her face uncovered - working a job normally held by a male in her society.

While this way of life has kept Iraqi women out of sight, a new hope is slowly rising - the hope of equality, she said.

"Modern Iraqi society has paved the way for Iraqi women to change their status. The independence of the political society - focusing on free speech, economic development and social change - has set the stage for their liberation," said Suzan.

Although circumstances may be getting better, Susan said Iraqi women continue to push through years of tradition.

"This change is just beginning and there is still a big difference between women's ambitions and reality, in which customs and values act as a thick wall separating women from opportunities available to men," said Suzan.

Suzan said she believes Iraqi women may be losing the small freedoms they recently gained because of terrorism.

"This way of thinking is causing women to lose their freedom again. Terrorism surrounds their lives and threatens their families. Try to imagine women suffering in a new society that is calling for democracy, freedom and equality between men and women while it is being threatened by an unstable security situation," she said.

Soldiers are doing their part to better the future for all people, regardless of race, nationality or gender, Hirschinger added.

"As we continue to move forward in the 21st century, the role and contributions of all women will become even more important as we navigate the changes in our military and our society. And, it is the job done by those of you here serving today which will continue to open those doors of opportunity," Hirschinger stated in his remarks.

Women make up about 15 percent of active duty personnel, Hirschinger added. More than 350,000 women serve in today's U.S. military, and one in every seven troops serving in Iraq is a woman, he added.

(Spc. Nathan Haskins writes for 1st Air Cavalry Brigade Public Affairs.)