Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line was borne out of my experience as a high school volleyball coach in 2004. Concerned with whom some of my athletes admired and considered role models, I began thinking about some of the women with whom I went to school and served along side in the Army. These women are role models, and if my team learned about some of them maybe they would consider pursuing paths to which they had not previously been exposed.
This collection of contemporary biographies introduces several role models who are ordinary women, not celebrities, doing extraordinary things. While the women portrayed in this book share a common education and developmental experience at West Point and as Army officers, they have chosen varied paths in and out of the Army.
Take for example Dawn Halfaker, a 2001 graduate of the military academy. As a combat military police platoon leader of Soldiers in Iraq, Dawn lost her right arm in an ambush. She questioned her ability to continue serving her country. Yet the retired young captain found another way to secure and protect the peace. She founded Halfaker & Associates, a company dedicated to providing national and homeland security services.
There is Lillian Pfluke, a 1980 graduate of West Point, the first class to include women, and retired Army officer. Three years after surviving breast cancer, Lil cycled nearly 6,000 kilometers cross-country with Lance Armstrong and the Tour of Hope to raise awareness of cancer. She than applied her physical prowess and entered the 2006 Master World Bicycle Track Championships where she smashed the world hour record on the velodrome. Recently, Lil founded the American War Memorials Overseas, Inc, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving, promoting and documenting America’s overseas wartime legacy of non-government war memorials.
General Heidi Brown, West Point Class of 1981, is the only woman to have led an air defense artillery brigade in combat in the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Brown is now serving as the deputy commanding general for support of I Corps. In early 2009, she will assume responsibility of logistics and sustainment operations in Iraq, as well as detainee operations from the Corps perspective.
The biographies of the women who shared their stories with me are a mere microcosm of the total. A recruiting poster for West Point states: “Much of the history we teach was made by people we taught.” West Point’s women are making history in and out of military uniform. While women may have changed the face of West Point, they have left untouched the ideals of duty, honor, country, and service to our Nation.