WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 25, 2009) -- Soldiers will celebrate Women's Equality Day Wednesday with lunches, lectures, fun runs and other observances across the Army.

The day commemorates passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. The state of Tennessee ratified the amendment on Aug. 26, 1920, making universal suffrage the law of the land. In 1971, Congress declared the date be observed as Women's Equality Day.

The day will begin at Fort Lee, Va., with a two-mile walk at 6:45 a.m. co-sponsored by the Army Women's Museum there. Soldiers at Fort Myer, Va., will begin the day with a five-kilometer fun run or two-mile walk.

Brig. Gen. Belinda Pinckney, director of the Army Diversity Office, will be guest speaker for a luncheon at Fort Riley, Kan. One of the things her office does is track how commands from Georgia to Alaska highlight observances such as Women's Equality Day, said Command Sgt. Maj. Maria V. Martinez.

Martinez, senior enlisted advisor for the Army Diversity Office, talked about her office's assessment of the force during a Blogger's Roundtable Tuesday. She said after visiting with thousands of Soldiers at dozens of installations over the past year, her office has compiled a report on diversity in the Army that will soon be briefed to senior leaders.

She said her office took a "holistic" approach and examined not just geographic diversity, but a wide range of issues, including women in the Army.

"There are numerous examples of women who have paved the way for us," Martinez said. She cited two women who earned the Silver Star, one or valor in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. She also mentioned several "firsts" for women in the Army over the past year.

For instance, Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody became the first four-star in the U.S. military and Command Sgt. Maj. Darlene C. Hagood became the first regimental command sergeant major for the Adjutant General corps.

"They have not achieved those successes without a mentor," Martinez said, adding that she had many mentors and role models that helped her along the way in the Army

"I believe women have come a long way," said 2nd Lt. Michelle LaForest, runner-up in an Army Combatives competition last week at Fort Campbell, Ky. She joined Martinez for the roundtable to talk about the equality of women in the Army.

"If I can't be better than them," LaForest said of her male peers, "I can keep right up to them."

LaForest won her first combatives bout last week in just 30 seconds by applying an arm bar to her male competitor. Then she beat another woman and went on to almost pull off another arm bar on the male who won the Flyweight Division of the tournament, which was part of the "Week of the Eagle" events at Fort Campbell.

LaForest plans to compete and represent Fort Campbell in the next Army-wide Combatives Championship, scheduled for Sept. 17-20 at Fort Benning, Ga.

"I plan to continue training and get better," LaForest said, adding that she will be the primary representative for Campbell in the Flyweight Division at the Army tournament, since the Soldier who beat her last week is moving to another command.

"Women's Equality Day celebrates how far we have come as a society, as well as the many contributions women are making today," said Col. Deborah B. Grays, the garrison commander for Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem, Ga. "These accomplishments are a tribute to the diversity of American society and to our continuing commitment to equality for all Americans."