FORT MONROE, VA. (April 1, 2010) - Four extraordinary women of different calibers took the stage for the Women's History Observance March 29, a collaborative effort of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe and Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

The national theme, "Writing Women Back into History," resonated through the Fort Monroe York Theatre.

The distinguished panel members included Gen. Ann Dunwoody, commanding general, U.S. Army Material Command, and the military's first female four-star general; Susan Kilrain, a retired U.S. Navy commander and former NASA astronaut; Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Teresa King, the first female commandant of the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School; and former U.S. Representative Thelma Drake, now director of Rail and Public Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

With high anticipation for the event, female students from the Hampton City Public Schools and the Achievable Dream Academy of Newport News attended the observance.

Lt. Gen. Michael A. Vane, TRADOC's deputy commanding general for futures and director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, opened the floor to the distinguished panel members. "It's quite an honor to have these women here," he said.

King told stories of growing up in rural North Carolina as a sharecropper's daughter with God-fearing parents and raised by the community as well. King noticed at a young age that she was different from the rest.

"My father was never in the Army, but he sure did run his family like he was," said King. "I wanted to be outside with my father, farming and working the land."

When looking back to her childhood, King remembered when she made the decision to enter the Army. "I saw soldiers while I was in the 10th grade and knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I made a commitment in the Delayed Entry Program to go into the Army. It was the best thing I have ever done."

Giving homage to the history of astronaut women, Kilrain, the first and only female naval aviator to pilot a space shuttle, shared stories of her childhood. "I got a humble start in a poor family, in a rural area, attending some of the worst-rated public schools in the entire nation. My father used to take my family to the end of the runway at the airport to watch the planes take off and land because it was cheap entertainment."

Kilrain then decided she wanted to be a pilot quickly and graduated to the passion of being an astronaut. "No one bothered to tell me it couldn't be done, and if we would have had a TV, I would have known women couldn't be astronauts. My father told me, in 1974 no less, you can be anything you want to be."

Dunwoody joined the Army intending to serve the required two years to pay off college and become a coach. "I wanted to be a physical-education teacher and loved all sports," she said. "All I wanted to do was to do something I was really good at."

"You can achieve things that are imaginable; find your passion and follow it. Don't let anyone stand in the way of your dreams or stop you from reaching your full potential. Never forget those who paved the way."

"I would not be here today was it not for the generations of women pioneers who came before me," Dunwoody said. Giving special tribute to U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm, the first female major general in any service, who passed away in February, Army Material Command's commanding general emphasized that "it's our responsibility to make sure women like that are never written out of history.

"It makes me proud to be a part of an institution that believes diversity is our strength and that each and every individual is a valued member," Dunwoody said.

The discussion concluded with the last panel member.

Drake was raised with the belief of "put up or shut up": if you wanted to complain, you had to be involved in the community. As a single parent, Drake had no option but provide for her family. "You have to believe that you can do it," she said. "We have to accept reality and deal with it."

After serving nine years in the House of Delegates, 2nd district, Drake ran for Congress and won. "It's important to set goals and then make a plan to reach those goals," she said. "I am planting trees that I may never sit under, but that my great-grandchildren and beyond may be able to sit under."

The women leaders also stressed the ability of balancing family, work, the spiritual component, relaxation and fun.

Their audience was inspired before the event even began. "After reading the booklet, I think the panel members are really interesting, and I would love to meet them," said Ty'aira Padilla, a fifth-grade student at Jane H. Bryan Elementary in Phoebus. "I always dreamed of going to the moon one day, and to know that it is possible is great."

"I think they are really going to encourage a lot of girls here to be in the military or to do anything you want to do," said Asia Days, an eighth-grader at Spratley Middle School in Hampton. Days is an aspiring Air Force pilot. "They all achieved something they wanted to do and didn't let anything stop them. Looking at them is looking at role models."

Tiara Hall, a junior at Phoebus High School, said, "I think they are very brave. They accomplished so much and made a difference in the country. It's an honor to have women like them do things for our country. I am looking to learn something new about history. It will be an experience."

Ann Bane, director of community relations for Hampton City Schools, expressed her excitement for the girls to attend as well. "I think it's a wonderful opportunity for our young women, one of many opportunities on Fort Monroe," Bane said. "I'd like for them to get what I am certain they will get: the message that the sky is the limit for women in general. These women have made such an impact. This will be inspiring for me as well."

The event closed with presentations to the four leaders of photos of the Old Point Comfort lighthouse on Fort Monroe. Organizers felt this symbolized the effort of female lighthouse keepers, one of the first non-clerical U.S. government jobs open to women.