FORT STEWART, GA (WTOC) - Lt. Col. Mary Rezendes has seen changes during her 23 years in the Army. Her most recent promotion came last year while deployed to Iraq. She took the oath as her husband and children watched by satellite.
"There was a time half way into my career when Congress said ok, women can serve in combat brigade headquarters and infantry division headquarters," she said. "Now, because of the war on terror, women are always serving very very close to the fight."
As a signal officer, she's helped manage communications and logistics to keep the headquarters running whether it operating from Fort Stewart or in Iraq.
"It's different now because we're a lot closer to the fight now and I think everybody acknowledges that now," she added.
The story is much the same for Commander Sergeant Major Cheryl Lyon, one of the few airborne-qualified women in the Army. She's deployed to Iraq and elsewhere over her 20 years of service.
"I've worked in Special Operations which I think is kind of unique and that was my most interesting assignment aside from being a battalion command sergeant major," she said.
Whether deployed in Iraq or back here at home, both women said they feel an added responsibility to serve as role models and mentors for younger female soldiers.
"I've had them walk up to me, young females who have not had a lot of senior leadership who were women. I've had them walk up and say 'can I shake your hand?' I'm like 'sure why?' And they say, 'I've never met a female sergeant major before and I want to shake your hand,'" Lyon recalled.
"Once when we were closing down a battalion, I got a note from a female soldier who said, 'please remember everyone is watching you.' and I thought, 'that is more responsibility than I had counted on,'" Rezendes added. "It wasn't in my head, but it is always on my mind that I have to be the best example."