140321-N-MK341-001 EAST CHINA SEA (March 21, 2014) - Intelligence Specialist Chief Sha'keena Sparks and Captain Heidi Agle, Commander Amphibious Squadron Eleven cut a cake during a Women's History Month celebration aboard forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). Bonhomme Richard is the flagship of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and is conducting a certification exercise with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Commander Amphibious Squadron Eleven in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Carla Burdt/Released)
Bonhomme Richards Sailors, Marines Celebrate Women of Character, Courage and Commitment
By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Carla Burdt, Commander, Amphibious Squadron 11 Public Affairs
EAST CHINA SEA - Sailors aboard the forward deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) gathered for a Women's History Month celebration, March 21.

In keeping with this year's theme, "Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment," Chief Intelligence Specialist Sha'keena Sparks spoke about the opportunities available to women today because of the trailblazers who came before them.

"I am proud to say that I am consistently amazed to see how far we have come and where we continue to go," said Sparks. "I'd like to tell each of you that I am extremely envious of you. I am envious of you because of the doors that are open for you and the opportunities that are in front of you."

Commander, Amphibious Squadron Eleven Capt. Heidi Agle spoke of what Women's History Month truly means in her keynote address. She explained that the month is dedicated to women who broke down barriers, created opportunities, and gave their lives in the service to their country.

"March is designated as women's history month, and it is a chance to acknowledge past pioneers, thank the heroes of today and inspire future leaders," said Agle. "It is a reminder that, if we believe in ourselves, we can make a difference. Our Nations' military holds a wealth of heroes who encourage us and provide examples of how to make that difference."

Currently, women make up 14 percent of the U.S. military. There are more than 165,000 enlisted women and 35,000 officers. Nearly every Naval community is open to women both ashore and afloat.

In 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the U.S. military ban on women serving in combat, overturning a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to ground combat units. In a letter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Panetta said, "The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service."

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