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Skies to Conquer: A Year Inside the Air Force Academy Hardcover – April 1, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0470046371 ISBN-10: 0470046376 Edition: 1st

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Skies to Conquer: A Year Inside the Air Force Academy + The Air Force Academy Candidate Book: How to Get In, How to Prepare, How to Survive
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470046376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470046371
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #246,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

They are among the smartest, toughest, and most disciplined college freshmen in the nation. They share dreams and ambitions rarely found among their peers. Over the next year, they will be subject to a battery of unbreakable rules, personal privations, and numbing routines that would send most college students racing back home. Everything they know and believe about themselves will be challenged, shaken, broken, and reassembled. All of this will occur as the elite institution they attend, the United States Air Force Academy, struggles to restore an image and reinvent policies that have been shattered by successive scandals and controversies.

In Skies to Conquer, former New York Times reporter Diana Jean Schemo follows a group of freshmen, the Bulldawgs of Squadron 13, as they make their way through their first year at the Air Force Academy. From the moment of their arrival, with no cell phones, radios, TVs, iPods, tiny refrigerators, or furniture, and no luggage other than a backpack full of white underwear, they are in for the toughest year of their lives.

The cadets—who boast an average GPA of 3.9 and SAT scores that rival the Ivies, as well as, in most cases, at least one varsity letter—include a recruited athlete from Georgia, who openly doubts his decision to attend the academy; a young woman who took Junior ROTC in high school and figures the Air Force Academy offers her the best chance of seeing combat; another young woman from California whose sights are set on outer space; and the son of a rocket scientist, who was homeschooled along with his nine siblings and looks forward to having only one or two roommates.

Weeks out of high school, these cadets, and more than 1,300 others, begin their careers in an explosion of criticism and punishment that strips their identities raw and demolishes their defenses with the precision of a laser-guided bomb. They will learn to fight with mud soaking through their clothes and covering their ears, to shower in thirty seconds, to drop for fifty push-ups or more on demand, and to sound off, shouting an answer to somebody inches from their face, usually in one of three ways: "Yes, sir!", "No, sir!", or "No excuses, sir!" Those who succeed—and some won't—will emerge stronger, their self-discipline and drive sharpened in the crucible of academy life.

Skies to Conquer comes complete with profiles of the upperclassmen who have the power of personal gods for these cadets and a running account of the academy's struggle to put sexual abuse scandals and a controversy over religious proselytizing behind it, while adapting its strongest traditions to the realities of the modern world. It combines powerful and intense real-life drama with a fascinating portrait of a major American military institution in flux.

From the Back Cover

"Skies to Conquer is a terrific, important, beautifully written book. Diana Jean Schemo takes readers deep inside one of the military's most important, if least understood, institutions: the U.S. Air Force Academy. It is a book that proves that America's warriors of the air are made, not born. Schemo was granted extraordinary, fly-on-the-wall access to a new class of training cadets who arrive in Colorado Springs as uncertain, undisciplined teenagers and are molded, sometimes brutally, into the future leaders of the United States Air Force. A collection of rich, very human portraits of these young men and women, the book also offers a troubling, if scrupulously fair, portrait of the institution. Written in the wake of the school's 2003 sexual-assault scandal, Skies to Conquer contains startling evidence to suggest that sexual harassment and religious intolerance may still plague the academy."
--Philip Shenon, author of the New York Times bestseller The Commission

"Diana Jean Schemo gives us entree to a most unusual school that is not only one of the world's most elite war colleges but also a bellwether of the U.S. military's attempts--and, sometimes, reluctance--to meet the demands of the democratic society it serves. But this is not a book about strategy, policy, or politics; it's the story of young, soon-to-be and never-to-be officers and their education, a balanced and empathetic account of how authority is built, bestowed, earned, and undermined in an institution at a cultural crossroads. A fascinating, valuable work of journalism."
--Jeff Sharlet, author of the New York Times bestseller The Family

"Diana Jean Schemo provides a compelling, nuanced, and balanced portrait of life inside the Air Force Academy that raises critical questions about how we are training the next generation of air force officers. The human story of what happens to these bright, idealistic young men and women in the cauldron of the academy is both enthralling and important."
--Douglas Frantz, coauthor of The Man from Pakistan


More About the Author

Diana Jean Schemo is an author and journalist, a veteran national and foreign correspondent with more than twenty-five years at the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun. She has covered poverty and child abuse, religion and culture. The Times nominated her coverage of education for a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
As bureau chief for the Times in Rio de Janeiro from 1995 to 1999, Schemo tracked the drug war in Colombia, and that country's brutal conflict between leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries. Her stories chronicled the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, counterfeiting in Paraguay, indentured servitude in Brazil, and journeys to the heartland of Brazil, where she wrote of previously uncontacted native tribes.
Before joining the Times, Schemo became the first woman assigned overseas for the Baltimore Sun, heading the paper's West European bureau in Paris and, later, Berlin. She covered the trial of Klaus Barbie, the infamous "Butcher of Lyon," nuclear arms negotiations, the Kurdish exodus from Iraq following the first Gulf War, and the collapse of Communism in East Germany. She has reported from more than twenty-five countries and region, from Somalia to Israel, Iraq to the Amazon.
Schemo's work has also appeared in Ms., Marie Claire, New York and the New York Times magazines. Skies to Conquer is her first book.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ann M. Rhodes on June 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In 2003, the Air Force Academy was named in a sex-abuse scandal. The following year there was a cheating scandal and on the heals of that, serious questions regarding religious intolerance. On top of that, very real questions about whether Academies are overpriced (to the public), unnecessary, or too soft have been floating around. In 2006, NY Times writer and author, Diana Jean Schemo, followed the freshman class up until Recognition (at the end of their freshman year) to see how the Air Force had addressed these specific issues as well as uncover some of the mysteries at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Her book, "Skies to Conquer" describes in detail the roller coaster ride during the first year at a military Academy. For most of us in America, we have very little association with the military and know nothing of what it takes to turn our children into soldiers, let alone officers. This in-depth look follows four students from the class of 2010. Schemo allows the reader to figure out what is involved in joining this military family while remaining unbiased in her opinion as to how they get the job done. She clearly describes what your child will face their first year, along with explanations of the purpose behind the methods. And she follows up with where the main characters are now. As a parent, I have witnessed first-hand what she covered and found it accurate, thorough, and had I not just lived through it, alarming. I've had people describe to me that the AFA can be broken into thirds. The first third is Basic Training that first summer. The second third is the rest of that first year. The final third is the next three years...Read more ›
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Like other readers, I seek out books about military academies. This one deserves credit because books about the Air Force Academy - nonfiction or fiction - are scarce. I agree with reviewers who say the book had repetitive sections, which could be annoying. The author doesn't remain invisible: she reminds us that she's with a "minder" and that her presence not only is noticed, but might even affect what she sees.

I also agree that the author doesn't convey the day to day life of the Academy. Cadets have awesome opportunities to join clubs, travel, and participate in activities that are not available anywhere else. Even Kelly Flinn's memoir (she's the woman who was booted from the AF for adultery, after graduating from the AFA) reported opportunities to go on exchange programs overseas.

After reading Absolutely American and other books about West Point, I was puzzled by some of the AFA practices. The AFA has a lot of rituals that I've never seen described in reports of other academies, such as the Recognition intense hazing (like an extended Hell Week for fraternities). The cadet cadre also seemed to be hazing rather than training sometimes. I've never read of cadre who turned their trainees against their own classmates. And I was appalled at the practice during Recognition, when the cadre call out names of cadets who have departed along with those who stayed, tossing out barbs and insults at those who have left.

I also was disturbed at the way religion plays a central role in Air Force life, especially the Christian religion. Christopher Hitchens was not allowed to speak on campus. A professor relates philosophical concepts directly to Christianity, with no apologies. Once I saw a PBS presentation by a Navy chaplain, a rabbi who was also a senior officer.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Red Sox Reader on April 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Former New York Times reporter Diana Jean Schemo is largely successful in her goal to go "inside" the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) for one year's time and paint a portrait of the institution in a time of change. In her introduction, Schemo states that her theme is "metamorphosis," or transformation, and she focuses not only on following a handful of entering cadets through their first year as at the USAFA, but on the evolution of an institution itself. Schemo focused on USAFA in the 2006-2007 academic year, when the Academy was recovering from two well-publicized controversies: (1) allegations by former women cadets that, after reporting sexual assaults by fellow cadets, they themselves had generally been punished more harshly (i.e., for illegal drinking) than those who had victimized them; and (2) allegations that top brass at the Academy were actively promoting evangelical Christianity (for example, an Academy Chaplain allegedly exhorting cadets during a military field training exercise to convert non-Christian classmates to save them from "burn[ing] in the fires of hell"). The theme of "transformation" is further explored, although more briefly, in Schema's discussion of changes in the Air Force itself (for example, an increasing focus on unmanned aerial drones vs. piloted planes).

Again, Schemo is for the most part successful in giving the reader a feel for the distinctive culture of the USAFA; giving an insight into the motivations, hopes and fears of the young people who attend it; providing a realistic picture of the life of first-year cadet at USAFA; and raising some thought-provoking questions about leadership issues in the context of the Academy's response to the sexual assault and religious proselytizing controversies.
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