On a crisp, cool Atlanta morning, three Blackhawks took off from Brown Airfield, carrying Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Soldiers from 3rd Infantry Division across the Atlanta skyline to Fort Stewart. Fort Stewart welcomed the former Secretary of State, Sept. 8 to speak on Women's Equality in the Army. The event, hosted by 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, focused on the trials and tribulations of women throughout history. Dr. Rice was the keynote speaker for the event. She also visited the Raider Dining Facility to have lunch with Soldiers, and she visited Warriors Walk.

Major General Tony Cucolo, 3rd Infantry Division Commanding General, opened the ceremony with a few words and to shine a spotlight on a particular Soldier.

"We are in the presence of history today," said Maj. Gen. Cucolo. "And I'm going to shine a brief spotlight on my buddy, because she, too, is a part of history. Brigadier General Jennifer Napper is one of the highest ranking female officers in the Army. She's also the first commander of [the] 7th Signal Command."

Major General Cucolo also stressed the importance of observances, and what it means to the Soldier.

"We do observances almost once a month," Maj. Gen. Cucolo said. "When Sergeant Major and I were growing up in the Army, the reason we did these observances was because there were people in our ranks that just didn't get it. It's so important that we do these observances because with each passing year, I meet Soldiers that say, 'You're kidding sir. The Army just became integrated in 1948'' Observances help teach Soldiers our history."

The ceremony started out with a presentation by 1st HBCT Soldiers, organized by division and 1st HBCT Equal Opportunity, that went over a brief history of women in the military and ended with a portion of the Noncommissioned Officer's Creed, in honor of the Year of the NCO.

Dr. Rice thanked the men and women of the Army as she began her keynote speech, and she thanked Maj. Gen. Cucolo for the opportunity to visit Fort Stewart.

"It's wonderful to be here in this lovely part of Georgia," said Dr. Rice. "I want to thank Maj. Gen. Cucolo for the invitation and for your leadership in this fine organization. I've been out of office for a while now and one thing I do miss is having the opportunity to visit with our men and women in uniform around the world. The United States of America is a special place, but it's also the luckiest place on earth to have a volunteer Army of its best and brightest sons and daughters who are willing to go to the hardest place, make the ultimate sacrifice, leave Family and friends and defend freedom at the frontiers, so we here at home can live in peace, security and democracy."

Dr. Rice spoke passionately about not only women throughout history but also about women in the military.

"Around the world, women are awakening, and they are awakening in no small part because of the efforts of the United States of America to help make decent societies. Now the United States does this, not out of arrogance, but out of humility because frankly, for a long time we didn't get it right either. When you think about the fact that it's not even one hundred years that women could vote in the United States, when you realize that it was not until 1964 that black people could be assured the right to vote, you realize that the United States can not advocate for equality and for equal treatment from a position of arrogance," Dr. Rice said.

At one point in her speech, Dr. Rice asked the female veterans to stand up. Amidst a sitting ovation, Soldiers both past and present rose to their feet.

"I want to take a moment to recognize our women in uniform," said Dr. Rice as the Soldiers took their seats. "It really wouldn't be possible to do much of what we did without women. But we need to fully recognize, and I think we're getting there, that our women Soldiers are [partners in war]. In modern times there is no such thing as the front; the front comes to you. So if you're a helicopter pilot, a medic, or a signal's officer, you are in combat; that is the way war is today. So our women in uniform deserve respect, the honor, and the gratitude of our country."

After the observance ceremony, Dr. Rice took pictures with daughters of 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers and visited Warriors Walk, where she walked the length of the forever-stoic trees marking fallen Soldiers.

"I am here at [Warriors Walk], and I want to thank the men and women of the 3rd Infantry Division. In the War on Terror, no group has done more than the 3rd ID to secure our freedom and make the world a better place. I know it's been done at a lot of cost and sacrifice, men and women who have lost their lives, colleagues, friends, mates. I understand the sacrifice, and the American people understand the sacrifice; but it's more than that. I had a lunch today with Soldiers and had a chance to talk about those deployments that are about to take place, and I know that [Families] will be left behind, baseball games that won't be attended and piano recitals that will be missed. But I want you to know, men and women of the 3rd Infantry Division, that the sacrifice is appreciated and admired."

Before jumping on the Blackhawk to leave post, Dr. Rice wanted to thank female Soldiers one last time for their years of selfless service.

"To me personally,Women's Equality means that a little girl who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., can become Secretary of State, you recognize that America is doing much better at achieving its goals," Dr. Rice said. "I had the great honor of being with Brig. Gen. Napper today, a pioneer in her own right, and women in the military are finally being recognized for what they do, they are equal partners in our volunteer Army."