Pounding footsteps through the hills of Jacks Valley sounded like muffled thunder Monday morning, as 1,199 freshmen from the Air Force Academy marched in formation for 5 miles to their final training site before the start of the academic year.
The caravan from the academy's main cadet campus marked the start of the 10-day field training, including assault, obstacle and confidence courses as well as training in combat arms and maintenance and first aid.
"The Jacks Valley training really focuses on the warrior ethos," said Lt. Col. Maria Roberts, basic cadet training commander. "It's really about finding that warrior ethos within each basic and finding the confidence in themselves and in each other to work on a team."
Col. John Price, vice commandant of cadets, sees Jacks Valley as key to two transformations - from young adulthood to adulthood, and from civilians to airmen.
"You came here as individuals. The Air Force is about changing that identity," Price told the Class of 2021.
He told the upperclassmen who will administer the training: "We're not here to make it easy, so make it difficult. We don't make warriors by making things easy."
The cadets' first task was to assemble their 20-by-40-foot tents, which came packed in olive-colored duffel bags with instruction manuals. Some did so flawlessly; others fumbled.
They start training at 4 a.m. Tuesday.
"During this training, we are trying to turn the basics (freshmen) into something better than we were when we went through this training," said Cadet Group Cmdr. Casey Bell, a rising senior at the academy. "If they don't graduate better than I did, then we failed.
"Sometimes I ask myself, 'What if I can't bring in a good enough class?' But then I see the basics accomplish something out here, and a fire lights up in their eyes. The basics want to be the best that they can be, just as the cadres do."
Although the cadres' main task is to cultivate that warrior ethos in the new cadets, they're developing their leadership skills, too. They mimic senior noncommissioned Air Force officers, leading their squadrons as if they were fully enlisted.
Bell, on her second stint providing the basic training, has helped prepare the cadres since January.
"The cadres are my best friends," she said. "I'm so proud of them."
For the first 25 days of training, the basics learned Air Force customs at the academy's main cadet campus, as Bell and her team ingrained in them fundamentals, from basic salutes to mealtime etiquette.
The basic training ends Aug. 3, when the cadets return to campus.