Twenty-seven Air Force Academy cadets were injured last week after a traditional hazing event left some with concussions, broken collar bones and cuts and bruises.
One cadet suffered a human bite on the arm, according to an email sent to academy staff by Brig. Gen. Dana Born, dean of cadets.
The hazing, known as First Shirt/First Snow, is an unofficial tradition that occurs every year on the first snow. Freshmen cadets try to throw their stripped-down cadet first sergeant in the snow, while the upperclassmen try to defend the sergeant.
Born’s email indicated that what was once a fun event has “turned into a brawl” and has become increasingly violent in the past two years.
This year’s hazing sent six cadets — those with concussions and broken collar bones — to local emergency rooms and left 21 others with minor injuries, said John Van Winkle, an academy spokesman.
Van Winkle said the "tradition," which has since been condemned by the academy, roughly dates to the 1980s. Many in the academy, including Van Winkle, had not heard of the event until the injuries were reported. However, it is noted on an academy folklore wiki that describes it this way:
“On the night of the first snow of the season, the smacks storm the first sergeant’s room, kidnap him, strip him down to his boxers and carry him outside to drag him around in the snow. Much like nuking, the severity of the operation often depends on the standing of the first sergeant in the eyes of the smacks. A well-liked or well-respected cadet first sergeant will normally not get much more than the cermonial (sic) dragging-through-the-snow. A less-liked or less-respected first sergeant may be bound, nuked in addition, or brought to near-hypothermia.”
This is not the first time that out-of-control hazing practices at the academy have come to light or been criticized by authorities. In 2006, in the wake of a sex-assault scandal, an old hazing tradition known as recognition was reinstated after a three-year hiatus in a more neutral form as a focus on physcial endurance for freshmen cadets instead of hazing. At the time, Lt. Gen. John Regni, the school’s superintendent, said hazing would not be tolerated.
Most of the academy’s 4,000 cadets did not participate in the Oct. 25 first snow hazing, Van Winkle said. The academy is launching a safety investigation into the episode, he said, adding that punitive action is not expected.
“We’re going to consider this a teachable moment,” Van Winkle said. “They are going to learn from that situation.”
The commandant of cadets talked to most of the cadet wing on Friday and Saturday after the event, emphasizing that the tradition “needs to stop and will stop,” Van Winkle said.
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