Published: June 27, 2013
"Eyes on me," howled junior cadet Austin J. Cooner, his bus leaving for basic training. Cooner is one of the toughest of the cadre, other seniors say, but freshmen cadets won't forget that first experience.
The Air Force Academy welcomed 1,196 freshmen to basic training Thursday.
The freshmen are basic cadet trainees - otherwise known as doolies - until after training and they are sworn in the first week of August. They were selected out of 9,706 applicants and will graduate in 2017.
Barry and Dorothy Hicks of Falcon dropped off their son Brodie, 18, who will likely be joining the football team as a wide receiver. Brodie talked to his dad, who works at the academy, and players to know what to expect. The Hicks, excited and anxious, are also sponsoring a Nigerian, one of 16 international students this year.
When trainees arrived at the first tent, a senior rattles off a several questions and commands.
"There will be a lot of work, but there will be a lot of fun too," said Parker Hines, 19, of Ellsworth, Wisc. After a year at the University of Madison, he plans to continue wrestling at the academy.
At the next tent, Bryan and Lori Ossolinski hugged their daughter Lauren, 19, goodbye.
A volleyball player from Doherty High School, Lauren has been planning on attending the academy for two years. She went to games, sports camps and a yearlong AFA preparatory school.
"The academy will definitely be more intense for her," said Bryan Ossolinski, who retired from the Air Force a few years ago and now works at NORAD.
Nick Bailey from Parker approached his family one last time, his dad leaning in for final words of advice. An academy graduate who retired after 23 years, Rex Bailey said his son understood what's ahead. "I told him how much fun he's gonna have the next six weeks," he joked.
"There are going to be days that don't go so well," cautions Curtis Cook, a retired Air Force officer and a member of the original 1959 class, afterwards whispering, "None are as ready as they think they are."
On the bus, the trainees faced forward and sat in silence, feet planted. A backpack shuffled. Minutes later, the engine roared to life. Air conditioning kicked on.
Rounding a couple hills, two seasoned cadets screamed questions at each trainee and hurled commands left and right.
"We are the service academy for the last superpower on the face of the planet," hollered senior Cadet Emmanuelle Massey.
"If you are not a person of absolute integrity, stay on my bus," junior Cadet Cooner bellows as the bus approached the school. "If you are unwilling to sacrifice for your country, stay on my bus. If you accept the minimum as your personal standard, stay on my bus."
The trainees scrambled to the "footprints" area where they recited their seven basic commands.
Several were held back until senior cadets were satisfied.
Some, like trainee Jayden Wilkerson, were held back for half an hour, at times with a handful of cadre crowding around within an inch of her face, screaming. "She's having a hard time pulling it together," one cadet whispers.
Some trainees don't make it: Each year about 50-80 drop out of basic training - some because of injuries, others because of the stress.
"It's not exactly what you want to do," said T.J. Germaine, 19, of wearing a traditional bright blue Hawaiian shirt, which makes him and about 50 others from Northwestern Preparatory School in California stand out.
New cadets dressed like that get "special" treatment, like the girl lugging a bright pink bag or the guy wearing a red belt reading "Thumbs Up!"
The cadets then trekked to their housing, delayed by a girl struggling to carry an Army duffel bag half her size. A young trainee behind her carried it to help move the line along.
Checked into their rooms, a web belt canteen, duffel bag, portfolio and baseball cap became their gear. After a brief break and snack, they completed a series of medical tests and surveys.
Then it was time for haircuts. Some men look depressed while most stared ahead. Others smiled as their hair was cut into laughable shapes before getting completely buzzed. Seniors in the hall waited expectantly for "Mohawk Guy," who checked in earlier that morning.
After haircuts, blood tests and vaccinations, trainees got boots and running shoes and were fitted for their uniforms, learning a new meaning of the word "basic."