She was active in the Afghan army for more than three decades; a commando and a paratrooper with nearly 600 parachute jumps, earning awards, certificates, and medals. She has trained hundreds of Ministry of Defense personnel.
But she never made general. It took the U.S.-led military coalition's defeat of the Taliban 2001 to make that possible. Why? Because Khatol Mohammadzai is a woman -- the first woman in Afghanistan to attain the rank of general. For years, the Afghan National Army has been considered solely a man's domain.
"When I move around in the city with my uniform, people show great affection. Many young people in the city tell me that they want to become a commando like me. I have motivated many young people to join the army. People from the provinces say they love me and my profession,” said General Khatol.
In Afghanistan, joining the military is not an easy choice for women as they face opposition from families and male colleagues. They lack promotions, assignment opportunities, training, and security.
But the 103 female cadets at the Marshal Fahim Military Academy in Kabul are working to change social taboos.
"My goal from the beginning is to promote myself to the level of General Khatol or even higher than her, and I move ahead in order to ensure security in my country,” said Gulalay, an army cadet.
Women and men train separately at the base, but Afghan officers say their programs are similar. Both receive physical education, firearms, tactics and medical care training.
Cadet Sima Amiri says that she is one of the few women who had her father's support to join the army.
"My message to the families is to encourage their daughters and help them in their decision to join the National Army," said Amiri.
General Khatol urges her countrymen to expand opportunities for women.
"It was my education and hard work that enabled me to raise the Afghan flag in the world. I request my heroic brothers and sons to strive for the education of their daughters,” said General Khatol.
The Ministry of Defense says 1,700 women serve in the Afghan National Army, about 1 percent of the total.