REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In his 36 years of military service, women have come a long way.

Speaking about the views of women then and now at the Women in Defense luncheon on Oct. 20, Lt. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson, the Army's deputy chief of staff for logistics, G-4, complimented women throughout the Department of Defense for the leadership and capabilities they bring to the workplace. Today's female professionals set a high standard for both men and women in the workplace, he said.

"Thirty-six years ago, when we asked the troops -- both men and women - what they thought was the most appropriate job for women in the Army, there was agreement that women make good cooks," Stevenson said.

"Well, a lot's changed. The Army's top logistician is a woman - Gen. Ann Dunwoody - and my cook is male. And in a survey of women who work for me - young majors - they report no problems at all having men work for them or working themselves for men. Everyone is judged on ability, not gender."

Stevenson was the keynote speaker during a luncheon at the Huntsville Marriott that celebrated the 25th anniversary of Women in Defense. The organization's Tennessee Valley Chapter has had an active membership for seven years.

He said it was a benefit to the Army and the Department of Defense when women believed in the slogan "Be All You Can Be" and then made it a reality for themselves.

And the statistics bear that out. Since 9/11, 200,000 women have deployed. More than 100 women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and two women logisticians have suffered the experience of being prisoners of war in Iraq.

Stevenson spoke of Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company, Kentucky National Guard, the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star and the first ever to receive the Silver Star for direct actions against an enemy force.

In March 2005, Hester and her Humvee gunner came to the aid of a 30-truck convoy driven by civilian contractors that was attacked by 50 enemy fighters using rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and small arms. Most of the enemy was concealed in an irrigation ditch and orchard. Hester and her gunner joined forces with a squad led by Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, firing into the orchard. While on foot, Hester and Nein engaged and eliminated enemy fighters. In all, 27 enemy fighters were killed and seven captured, six of which were wounded. The squad suffered at least four serious casualties, but no one died of their wounds.

"Sgt. Hester is a tough lady you do not want to cross," Stevenson said. "The convoy was heading in the opposite direction when they passed Sgt. Hester and she heard of the attack. She joined the fight and helped to save the convoy. That's the kind of bravery and patriotism our female troops are showing in combat."

Stevenson said groups like Women in Defense - with programs that offer networking and mentoring opportunities -- help to "level things out" so that women can take advantage of opportunities for advancement.

Besides women distinguishing themselves within DoD, Stevenson said they are also excelling in the private sector. He mentioned the woman-owned company Cybernet and their ability to design a machine that sorts out spare and loose ammunition.

"Each Soldier has seven magazines and we have 100,000 Soldiers coming out of Iraq," he said. "This ammunition sorter is saving us a lot of money. It illustrates the type of entrepreneur talent that women have."

He also mentioned the military wives of DoD Soldiers and civilians. For those who have endured three or four deployments in recent years, the support and love of spouses has been essential.

"We couldn't do what we do without family and friends," Stevenson said. "Being a mother and father all in one isn't easy. The unsung heroes are the family members. Thanks to them we have a greatest fighting force in the world."

Shifting to Amy logistics, Stevenson said DoD and the Army are doing well in Operation New Dawn activities in Iraq. There are 3.4 million pieces of Army equipment each year making the transition out of Iraq, and are either being sent home or into theater in Afghanistan.

"With the drawdown in Iraq, we are now just under 50,000 Soldiers," Stevenson said. "By the end of next year we will be down to zero. Soldiers and equipment have been coming home in a massive way."

With monthly goals and metrics in place, the drawdown has "so far come together pretty well," he said. "It has been efficient, well-planned and pretty darn good execution."

In 2010, 70 percent of supply support activities in Iraq have been shut down, the number of vehicles have been reduced by 60 percent and the amount of ammunition has been reduced by 40 percent. A total of 3,100 trucks in Iraq has been reduced to 280.

"We still have another 14 months to go," Stevenson said.

Much of the focus is on resetting equipment that has been sustained in hot and dusty conditions.

"It's a massive job," he said, adding that all Army depots are working diligently to manage the higher quantities of reset projects. At Anniston Army Depot, reset has gone from 500 combat vehicles in 2004 to 1,600 in the past year.

Much of the commercial gear being returned from theater will be offered to state and local government agencies through the National Association of State Agencies for Surplus Property. Stevenson said the state of Alabama was the first recipient of the program, receiving 50,000 surplus generators.

While Iraq military efforts are coming to an end, Army logisticians are facing new challenges with the ramp up in Afghanistan, which presents several transportation issues. The country has no port, poor roads and infrastructure, high theft rate, border limitations and an active enemy. It can take a week to travel 600 miles by truck.

"There's no country tougher to get into and sustain," he said.

For that reason, air drops from helicopters are becoming the preferred way to get supplies into Afghanistan. So, too, are routes from the north through central Asia.

"The equipment and troops have all gotten in on time," Stevenson said. "Now forces are in place to begin what we started nine years ago.... But logistics aren't as easy as in Iraq. Air drops have become big business for us."

Five years ago, 1.2 million supplies for the year were air dropped into Afghanistan. This year, 30 million supplies have been air dropped into the country.

The Army is using parachute systems that can air drop up to 100,000 pounds of supplies.

"Now, we're working on free drop where you throw out with no parachute. We have a honeycomb material that can withstand the impact," Stevenson said.

The general mentioned the move of the Army Materiel Command to Redstone, saying AMC and the Army's logistics community will benefit from the highly-skilled work force in the area as well as from the synergy of being located near the Aviation and Missile Command and other Army organizations.

"This will really create a center of excellence for logistics," he said.

The move will also help in DoD's efforts to create efficiencies, cut $100 billion in overhead over the next five years, eliminate duplications and "flatten and streamline" throughout DoD.

"This is important and vital to the future," Stevenson said.