March 11, 2011
They did pushups until they dropped Friday. Jumping jacks and flutter kicks were part of the punishment, too.
For just one more day, freshmen at the Air Force Academy had to respond instantly to every shouted order and recite arcane military facts on demand.
If they can make it to Saturday — a daunting task during “recognition” at the academy — everything changes.
“We get to earn the respect of our squadron and be normal people again,” said freshman Shane Welch as he sweated from exertion in the early morning chill.
Recognition marks the change for freshmen from objects of pity and derision to full-fledged cadets. It’s a day the freshman began working toward when they were first greeted by screaming drill instructors in their first harried minutes at the school.
If they make it through, freshmen gain privileges, the most coveted of which is the ability to wear civilian clothing for the first time since summer.
But it’s one tough day.
Upperclassmen rousted the freshmen from bed at 5 a.m. Friday for a day of physical and mental toil.
“It’s a challenge that allows you to see what you are made of,” said senior cadet Josh Auerbach as he watched his freshman counterparts crawling at a fast pace as a drill instructor barked orders to speed up.
The academy has changed recognition over the years. What was once an event that some compared to hazing is now a carefully-controlled day of training that academy brass says builds leadership skills in upperclassmen and freshmen alike.
On Friday senior cadet Kevin Rowe led freshmen through an obstacle course called “minefield” that was set up in a gymnasium for the occasion.
The freshmen worked in pairs to conquer Rowe’s course. One blindfolded freshman walked through the obstacles — in this case just crumpled paper on the floor — as another gave directions.
“They need to communicate and think to get through it,” he said.
Teamwork is the biggest key to the annual rite. Freshmen are encouraged to work together to conquer challenges. While some upperclassmen act as tormentors during the ordeals, others are there to cheer the freshmen on.
Senior cadet Issac Leuthold that said the freshmen also learn that they’re tough enough to make it through any challenge in life.
“Everybody gets something a little different out of this experience,” he said. “It’s a very personal thing.”
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