At AFA basic training, even smiling has a military purpose

July 12, 2013 Updated: July 13, 2013 at 10:40 am
photo - An Air Force Academy unit of basic cadets cheer as they are announced the winner of an event at Field Day Friday, July 12, 2013. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
An Air Force Academy unit of basic cadets cheer as they are announced the winner of an event at Field Day Friday, July 12, 2013. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

For two weeks, Air Force Academy doolies have been motivated by howling upperclassmen, quick to correct the freshmen during the part of basic training appropriately called "beast".

On Friday, the cadre stepped back and even smiled for a few hours as they watched the freshmen motivate themselves during field day.

"They need to feel it inside," explained Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Ludwig, the academy's top enlisted airman.

On the outside, field day seems like the fun and games kids would join on the last day of elementary school. There are relay races, competitions of strength and tug-of-war battles.

But every second of a freshman cadet's life in their first months at the academy has a military purpose.

"The whole day is built on teamwork," explained cadet Carley Gross, an upperclassman who helped run the field day event.

Nearly 1,200 freshmen arrived at the academy two weeks ago for basic training. They were divided into squadrons and given haircuts and uniforms, along with less-than-gentle instruction on the facts of Air Force life.

For two weeks, they've been cloistered in the cadet area to re-learn everything from walking and talking to how to eat dinner and dress.

Friday, they got a brief chance to act like the teenagers they are. Their tormentors cheered as the freshmen competed.

"It was nice," said freshman cadet Landon Tomcho.

The games are designed to force the freshmen to support each other. They pull together in the tug-of- war. They run together on the track. The fastest freshmen take on their superiors in a relay race.

"In the past two weeks they have been building cohesion," said Brig. Gen. Gregory Lengyel, the academy's commandant of cadets.

The freshmen come in as "rainbows", a diverse group of teens wearing every color of clothing available. The goal, at first, is to make them all the same - a team that has everything from clothing to goals in common.

"It's amazing what you can accomplish in two weeks," Lengyel said in a speech praising the freshmen.

The cheering and smiling Friday morning ended as quickly as it started, though. After four hours of field day, the freshmen, "basics", formed up and marched back to prepare for several more weeks of training - and torment.

"Basic cadet training isn't easy," Lengyel said. "It's designed to test you and it's designed to make you better."

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