An enlisted service member from The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tenn., was among approximately 130 military women and veterans who attended tea at the White House with First Lady Michelle Obama, Nov. 18, 2009.
"It was the greatest honor ever," said Tech. Sgt. April M. Sharpe, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the client service center at the Training and Education Center and one of four female enlisted members from the National Guard Bureau selected to attend the event.
Obama joined Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, in honoring military women, many who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and others whose service dates back to World War II.
"It was just wonderful to be in the same room as these women...the women who paved the way for us today," said Sharpe. "And the icing on the cake was the first lady praising the things we do and have done in the military....it was an honor, it really was."
Retired Air Force member Wilma Vaught, president of the Women In Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc., board of directors, had suggested the idea of a White House tea - a tradition popularized by Eleanor Roosevelt -- during the first lady's recent visit to Arlington National Cemetery.
So as Vaught and the other guests in the White House East Room sat around tables with vases of yellow roses and plates piled high with party sandwiches and cookies, Obama recognized women's long tradition of military service. Some served before the country's independence, she noted, and in many cases, before women had the right to vote or own property.
They overcame challenges through sheer determination and hard work, the first lady said, serving as role models for those who followed in their footsteps and breaking one "brass ceiling" after another along the way.
"Your legacy is more than your own service," she told the women. "I hope you know that your legacy will be measured in the service of every woman who follows in the trails that you've blazed - every woman who benefits from your daring and determination."
It will also be measured, she said, by those inspired by that service.
Biden told the group she and the first lady, in their travels around the country, have been "truly overwhelmed by the courage of our men and women in uniform, and inspired by the dignity and sense of patriotism that you exhibit every day."
"What an extraordinary group of individuals we have here today," she said, noting the women representing all branches and ranks of the U.S. military, as well as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior enlisted advisors and others serving the country.
"As each of you knows, women have always played a critical role in supporting our nation's defense and security, and this role will only continue to evolve and grow in the future," Biden said.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano joined Obama and Biden on the podium as they honored the guests.
Cartwright joked that it felt a bit strange for a Marine fighter pilot to sit down for a "spot of tea," but said he welcomed the chance to pay tribute to the strides military women have made and the contributions they continue to make.
"When Eleanor Roosevelt hosted similar events, attitudes were significantly different," he said, adding that, today, women are no longer considered a distinct, separate group within the military.
"Today's women are key contributors to our military team," he said, noting the achievements women have made and critical contribution they have made. More than 200,000 women have deployed since 9/11, more than 100 of them making the ultimate sacrifice.
Cartwright thanked the women at today's tea for their service. "These women represent the core and essential values of our military, and they also represent the true treasure of this nation - our youth and the people who serve," he said.
Navy Lt. Kate Maslowski, assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy as a flag lieutenant for Superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, said she felt overwhelmed to be part of today's event.
"I'm taking it all in, amazed to see so many influential men and women here, and others who have played such a big role in empowering women," she said. "It means a lot to be here. I'm excited beyond words."
Air Force Brig. Gen. Allyson Solomon, assistant adjutant general for the Maryland Air National Guard, said she felt particularly privileged to be among the women veterans who paved the way for today's women in uniform.
She noted two attendees at today's tea: 104-year-old Esther Corcoran, one of the Army's first women lieutenant colonels; and Alyce Dixon, who was born in 1907 and served with the Army's 668th Central Postal Directory Battalion during World War II.
"They're inspiring," Solomon said. "I just want to thank them for all the changes they helped make."