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Porcelain On Steel | Women of West Point's Long Gray Line Paperback – May 25, 2010
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The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, admitted, for the first time, in 1976, female cadets. Porcelain on Steel is their story, and the stories of the hundreds of women who have graduated from there since. It is a story of obstacles overcome that is unique in American education.
In a straight forward manner, the author paints a stark picture of the prejudices encountered by the first women who attended, and how they coped. We are given a glimpse of their courage, and resoluteness. The reader gets to know West Point, what makes it unique, and how it changed, for the better, as a result of a gender integrated corps. We see women who became all that they could be, and much more than they originally aspired to be as a result of their army experiences, which began as plebes in that intimidating establishment that has no equal in the vast expanse of colleges across the land.
The book encapsulates stunning career success stories of many of these women graduates, both in and out of the military, and the reader's heart cannot help but be warmed by the unanimous, graceful, gratitude of these strong ladies for the chance that their West Point education and experience gave them.
A professionally produced and published book, Porcelain on Steel is a captivating human interest read about a transition time in our military's history that changed the face of the army, forever. Mostly in their own words, the very real personalities of these remarkable ladies are revealed in the pages of this book, and they are quite compelling. It is believable, because it is true, and few women in the history of our country have stories as unique as theirs. Few women have contributed as much to the growth of our nation, none more. I wanted to stand up, and cheer when I finished reading.
Review by Bob Flournoy, MWSA Reviewer (July 2010)
-- Military Writers Society of America, July 31,2010
As warriors, servants of the nation, members of a profession and leaders of character, West Point's women graduates have led impressive lives. In Porcelain on Steel, author Donna McAleer follows the paths of 14 women graduates to give an in-depth look into the challenges they faced and the impact they had on an educational institution that had long adhered to a traditional all male student body. From the first graduating class of 1980 to one of the most recent in 2007, Porcelain on Steel allows the reader to witness the evolution of coed education at West Point through individual narratives that personalize the experiences of women cadets.
Having served as an admissions officer for the first two classes of women attending West Point in the 1970s, I have admired young women who are willing to enter an environment where they know in advance that every aspect of their character will be challenged to the nth degree. Porcelain on Steel only reinforced that admiration. I felt immense pride reading about each of these young women, some of whom I served with and know personally, and whose strength and courage I greatly respect. Kudos to McAleer for providing us with the opportunity to share the remarkable journeys of these women.
A 1987 West Point graduate, McAleer does not take center stage, instead providing an astute introduction that frames the male-dominated context within which women first entered West Point in 1976. She does not bring the reader to the military school immediately but focuses, instead, on the world in which women found themselves in the 20th century. By taking this route, McAleer provides a larger, overarching commentary on the American feminist movement and the social stigmas women struggled to overcome. Thus the military--as an exceedingly male institution--functions as a microcosm within which the challenges facing women at that time can be examined.
As McAleer notes, "Leaders of the women's and civil rights movements are not likely to mention West Point as an archetype of advancement on their behalf, nor would they probably point to the U.S. Army as an institutional model of minority progress and opportunity. But West Point and the Army have been microcosms where small battles and victories have led to fundamental social change."
The challenges faced by the featured women graduates do not end at West Point. McAleer follows the graduates into their careers, where they continue to confront and overcome barriers. Some excel in military careers despite limitations and disadvantages, while others strive to reach professional and personal goals outside the Army. In all cases, these women display the values of integrity, perseverance and personal courage that led them to succeed at West Point and beyond.
The stories of the women in Porcelain on Steel speak not only to those in uniform, but to society as a whole. Through firsthand accounts by women who experienced the profound transition in America's oldest service academy, McAleer's work demonstrates just how much is achievable by those determined to overcome the odds. In McAleer's own words: "Meaningful role models, both in and out of military uniform, reveal possibilities." This has never been truer than in the case of West Point's remarkable women graduates.
--Major General Pat Hickerson, USA Ret. --Army Magazine, January 2011 (page 68) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From the Back Cover
Advance praise for Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point's Long Gray Line
"Donna McAleer's Porcelain on Steel is a powerful and inspirational portrait of the women who serve--not just our country, but their families, their communities, and their own commitment to a purposeful and meaningful life. These women--like the author herself, had the courage and strength to attend West Point--the toughest and most elite military school in the nation--and serve as role models for women everywhere."
-- Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO, Avon Products, Inc.
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"In a world where change and challenge is certain, character matters. The women of West Point have proven that they have the right stuff in terms of character to handle both change and challenge with courage, resilience, and grace. They have reached the pinnacles of leadership and faced the depths of pain and loss, both in their journey through the hallowed halls of West Point and on the distant fields of battle. They have been forged into strong, inspiring and worthy leaders. Donna McAleer's Porcelain on Steel is an intimate, evocative and candid portrait of the women who serve--not just our country, but their families, and their communities. They have proven to a global audience, women can do anything."
-- Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Men's Basketball
* * *
"The history of women on the hallowed grounds of West Point for the past 30 years has largely been overlooked. Porcelain on Steel by Donna McAleer begins to change that, and brings alive the quality, character and contributions of women of courage, integrity and honor. These women are the type of inspiring models that our young people deserve and require. This is a great book about some of the women who helped make our West Point Military Academy, "Best College and Business School in the Country" (Forbes, August, 2009). If you are a teacher, a mentor, a parent or young adult looking for stories of ordinary people that have done extraordinary things with their life--then you must read this book!"
-- Frances Hesselbein, President & CEO, Leader to Leader Institute, and former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA
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"The admission of women to West Point in 1976 strengthened the Army and enabled the institution to better reflect the composition of the society it defends. Porcelain on Steel tells the compelling and inspiring stories of several of these brave women. The record of women who graduated from West Point is superb, and they have served with distinction on our nation's battlefields and across a myriad of milieus. Indeed, in every conflict over the past 30 years, the women of West Point have demonstrated the exceptional traits our nation expects of a West Pointer--selfless service, courage under fire, and commitment to country and duty. These admirable traits come to life in the riveting pages of Porcelain on Steel."
-- General Barry R. McCaffrey
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"For more than 200 years, West Point has provided America outstanding leaders of character for both peace and war. Since 1976, women have been included in the West Point experience, and yet their stories have not been told. In this book, Donna McAleer fires the first shot. She captures the lives of fourteen females who graduated from the Academy to become leaders and outstanding women--women who fight America's battles and women who fight their own personal battles. It's about time their stories have been told."
-- Lieutenant General William J. Lennox, Jr., Superintendent, West Point 2001-2006
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"Porcelain on Steel is an important and compelling book whose value goes far beyond the author's stated purpose. Ms. McAleer gives us portraits of fourteen women West Point graduates: their accomplishments, ordeals and sacrifices. She offers these remarkable stories as role models for young women. In truth, they are far more than that. They are role models for all young people and fellow citizens who exemplify the virtues needed in the perilous age now upon us."
-- Erin Solaro, author, Women in the Line of Fire: What You Should Know About Women in the Military
* * *
"If you have young daughters and are dismayed by the female role models put forward by today's media, Donna McAleer's Porcelain on Steel is the book for you. Subtitled "Women of West Point's Long Gray Line," Ms. McAleer's crisply-written, loaded-with-details work narrates the career and life stories of fourteen West Point grads who have redefined what it means to be a woman in today's world. Ms. McAleer's tale follows its heroes from the initial shock and harassment of "Beast Barracks," through four years in the Corps of Cadets and beyond. From Maj. Lissa Young, who became a crack helicopter pilot and wound up commanding a company of 300 soldiers and 18 Chinook choppers, to Capt. Dawn Halfaker, who lost an arm to an insurgent RPG in Baqubah, Iraq but went on to found and run her own company in support of the war on terrorism, the women profiled in Porcelain on Steel have blazed the trail that will be followed by thousands in the years to come. Men have no monopoly on courage, honor and the passion to serve. Thank you, Donna McAleer, for shining a light on these women who have lived out and been true to, often in the face of bitter and small-minded opposition, their own highest selves."
-- Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae and The Afghan Campaign: A Novel
* * *
"Women are making absolutely essential contributions to our ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Porcelain on Steel tells the story of how many of them made their way from West Point to the battlefield, and will inspire their sisters and brothers to make the same thoughtful choice to serve our nation."
-- Dr. John A. Nagl, President, Center for a New American Security, and author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam
* * *
"Porcelain on Steel, so apt a title for this book, takes us into the hallowed halls of West Point and shows, through a series of personal narratives, the remarkable impact women cadets have had on this `man's world' military institution in just three decades. Women cadets at West Point, from those who broke gender barriers as members of that first Class of `80 to those standing in the Long Gray Line today, have exceptional stories. The fine sampling of these stories contained in this highly recommended book carry the reader through their experiences in various classes. While each story is unique, common threads are present which link these women together as courageous pioneers and leaders. Their tolerance for adversity is profound, as is their whole-hearted dedication to the West Point ethos of Duty, Honor and Country, and service to the Nation."
-- Brigadier General Evelyn "Pat" Foote, President Emeritus, The Alliance for National Defense.
* * *
"Good steel comes from a hot fire. In Porcelain on Steel, Donna McAleer has gathered the stories of an impressive array of women who have graduated from West Point and served as leaders in our nation's Army. All of the women in this collection have combined West Point's creed of Duty, Honor, Country, with their personal attributes of courage, perseverance, and vision, to achieve great success in their service to our country in uniform and beyond. From the beginning, the West Point experience is one of accepting and discharging responsibility--personal responsibility as well as the overarching responsibility that is woven into leading soldiers. Women entered West Point thirty-four years ago, and their skills and experience are now reaching into the upper ranks of our nation's senior leadership. These women, who share the common bond of West Point and have been molded by their service in the Army, share their moments of challenge and achievement in a unique book that is written by one who has been there, done that. This is an important contribution to the history of women in our nation's military leadership and beyond."
-- Major General Joseph P. Franklin, Commandant of Cadets, West Point 1979-1982 and author of Building Leaders the West Point Way: Ten Principles from the Nation's Most Powerful Leadership Lab
* * *
"I have not had the privilege of meeting all of the women profiled in Donna McAleer's remarkable book, Porcelain on Steel, but I know their kind well. From high-ranking commanders to competitive athletes, from business leaders to stay at home moms, I've seen these women in action. They are uniformly tough, smart, resilient, courageous, honorable, and effective. This skillfully crafted collection of biographies of female West Pointers eloquently describes the triumphs and trials of some of our nation's most extraordinary women. These women are genuine role models, and this book is an inspiring read for men and women of all ages."
-- David H. McCormick, Undersecretary of the Treasury, 2007-2009
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"Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point's Long Gray Line is a compelling and inspiring book, featuring remarkable leaders who drew upon their West Point experience to triumph over formidable professional, medical, and personal challenges and make a real difference in the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. A great read for anyone motivated by leadership, loyalty, courage and public service."
-- Celina B. Realuyo, Assistant Professor, National Defense University
* * *
"A fascinating look at fourteen women of the Long Gray Line--ordinary people with extraordinary stories that span the breadth of the American experience. Their life stories will inspire and captivate--highly recommended for all who want to understand the journey of American women at West Point and beyond."
-- Colonel Peter Mansoor, author of Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander's War in Iraq and the General Raymond E. Mason, Jr. Chair of Military History, The Ohio State University
* * *
"Donna McAleer's collection of stories of leadership and service is an important contribution to the history of West Point's Long Gray Line. What these women have accomplished--what these officers and soldiers have accomplished--makes for an inspiring reminder of the best that our nation has to offer. Porcelain on Steel is an uplifting and important book."
-- Bill Murphy Jr., author of The Intelligent Entrepreneur: How 3 Harvard Business School Graduates Learned the 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship and In a Time of War: the Proud & Perilous Journey of West Point's Class of 2002.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Yes, there are female generals and career soldiers but hearing about the other branches, such as military intelligence, military police, the quartermaster corps, as well as a military doctor and a military chaplain, was quite interesting. Also of interest: reading about the women who were severely injured, both in wartime and not. One soldier--from the military police I think--was shot during a patrol and lost an arm. Another became paralyzed during a skydiving accident.
Besides addressing why these women first decided to go to West Point, the book also looks at the rigors of Academy life, as well as how they coped with the leadership roles in the Army with balancing their personal lives.
Very interesting reading!!
Did I mention the desperation for female role models?
Except for Bethany Hamilton, the pickings are slim. Until you read 'Porcelain on Steel'. Whether you or your daughters have ever had any interest in the military or West Point is irrelevant. This is a great read chock full of female role models. 'Warrior scholar' is a fascinating aspect of womanhood.
This book covers women from the first coed class at the Point to recent grads who have served in Afghanistan and current conflicts. Some became career officers and some, like many of us, sacrificed career for family.
What is fascinating about these women is not only the agonizing training, force of will, and intellect, but the complete lack of self-pity or a defeatist attitude. These women dealt with cancer, horrendous combat injuries, tough family decisions (including single motherhood), and hard decisions about dealing with sexuality (knowing its revelation could end their career). It will especially make you appreciate what the first women at W.P. had to endure.
I never write reviews on Amazon, but this book more than deserves it. Great read!!!
"Porcelain On Steel" is rich with inspirational stories of women who decided (for different reasons) to "invade" the all-male bastion of West Point. Their successes during those years at West Point and after thrilled me. But the treatment they received while at school (and sometimes during their Army commitment) angered me beyond belief. I knew of it, but reading it and attaching it to real women gave it a new dimension. And to think ... the powers-that-be allowed that treatment to continue. They even encouraged it! I hope that the cadets who treated their fellow students this way feel some sort of shame.
Having said all that, I enjoyed the book and I hope to use it to inspire my female students whether they want a career as a military officer, doctor, lawyer, architect, U.S. Senator.
I found "Porcelain On Steel" to be a bit cumbersome at times ... way too much detail about military units, etc. and I skimmed those parts. The REAL story is about the women and not which unit is attached to which command.
All in all ... my hats off to these women and all women who dare to be who they are!