The Air Force Academy will have its biggest freshman class in more than a decade arriving in a few weeks as 1,418 prospective cadets begin basic training.
The class, the largest since 1992, comes as the Army struggles to meet recruiting goals and the Air Force tries to downsize enlisted ranks. The number of cadets coming in easily outstrips the 1,049 enlisted recruits the Air Force brought in this year. “It’s great to see that the numbers are up there and our best and brightest American sons and daughters are interested in a military career,” said Lt. Col. Laurent Fox, an academy spokesman. The number comes as the Air Force works to shed as many as 14,000 troops. The reduction is necessary because the Air Force has consistently exceeded retention goals. The service has lowered enlisted recruiting goals to cut its ranks and is offering enlisted airmen the option of voluntarily transferring to the Army. But demand for new officers, especially pilots, remains high, driving the need for the large class. Last year, the academy brought in 1,350 cadets. Since the mid-1990s, classes have averaged about 1,250 cadets. Meade Warthen, another academy spokesman, said it’s impossible to know why so many accepted offers to the school. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis are bringing in smaller freshman classes than the Air Force. West Point netted 1,224 would-be cadets, and the Naval Academy is bringing in 1,227 prospective midshipmen. Fox said the size of the academy’s incoming freshman class shows that the war in Iraq isn’t dampening enthusiasm for would-be cadets. “This is a positive sign,” he said. According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count at www. icasualties.org, 1.1 percent of U.S. casualties in the Iraq war have come from the Air Force. More than half — 50.5 percent — are from the Army, 26.1 percent from the Marines and 1 percent from the Navy. The bigger class is up to the standards of its predecessors. The incoming freshmen averaged a 3.9 grade point average in high school and 1,300 on the 1,600-point Scholastic Aptitude Test, used to gauge a high school student’s probability of success in college. “The quality is good,” said Rollie Stonemen, the academy’s associate director of admissions. “It’s a very strong class.” The slightly larger class shouldn’t pose problems for the 51-year-old academy, which in 1975 accommodated a record 1,626 freshmen. APPLICATIONS DROP Applications for the class of 2009 dropped for all three major service academies for the first time since the attacks of 2001. Despite its big freshman class, applications to the Air Force Academy dropped 23 percent. Applications to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., dropped 9 per- cent, and applications to the U.S. Naval Academy dropped 20 percent. Applications to the Air Force Academy fell to 9,604 from 12,430 last year, said Meade Warthen, the academy’s chief of media relations. THE BOSTON GLOBE