“Few collegians work as hard as the U.S. Military Academy’s 786 female cadets.”
So begins the intro to a photo essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.
I have no doubt that’s true. The combination of academic rigor, physical challenges and leadership training — all occurring under the weight of a nation’s expectations and two hundred years of military tradition — has got to be daunting, to say the least. Imagine being a young woman in a place populated by alpha males and maybe you get a sense of the extraordinary challenge.
Since 1976, when women were first admitted, more than 4,100 women have followed in the steps of the first 62 female graduates in 1980, the Times notes.
In a gorgeous collection of 16 black-and-white photos by Damon Winter, the Times provides a glimpse of the trials and tribulations faced by today’s female cadets. The online presentation includes three short audio clips and a dozen more photographs, which you can view here.
The text and captions accompanying the images focus on the women’s personal challenges. You won’t find any mention of the sexual assault scandals that have plagued all three of the U.S. military academies. Nor will you find any hint of glorifying war.
Like their male peers, these are exceptional young women. And they are being admitted at record numbers (22 percent of this year’s incoming class, up from 16 percent last year), the Times notes.
“You get into West Point because you’re good academically, you’re a good leader, you’re the team captain or whatever,” Arianna Efaw says. “Then you get here and realize that everybody’s exactly like you, only better.”
A decade ago, I was introduced to the history and culture of West Point through David Lipsky’s excellent book, “Absolutely American,” in which he follows a single class of cadets through their four years at the academy, ending with their commissioning as second lieutenants.
Later, I was exposed up to the soldier’s perspective through my younger son Jordan’s service as an Army infantryman.
I’m no military worshipper but I do have a healthy respect for both the leaders and enlisted service members of today’s volunteer Army. They answer a call that few of us do.
I’m especially impressed by the accomplishments and aspirations of these women at West Point. If you’ve got a few minutes, spend a few glimpsing this essay.
Photographs: Damon Winters, The New York Times