An animal rights group Wednesday launched protests of the Air Force Academy's killing of rabbits as part of a survival training program for cadets.
Since the 1960s, cadets have been trained how to live in the wilderness and evade enemy forces. It stems from an Air Force Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion program that has been used to train flight crews since World War II.
As part of the program, cadets are trained to kill and cook their own food under primitive conditions. Live rabbits are killed and eaten, prompting the protest from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Cadets are run through a 10-day program that includes training on how the Air Force rescues flight crews and combat skills. According to Air Force documents obtained by PETA under the Freedom of Information Act, the program also focuses on killing and preparing game. The manual says students as a group join in the training, learning how to skin, butcher and cook the animals. The training takes place during the summer, when cadets are out of class.
PETA says it asked the academy to stop the practice in May but hasn't received an answer. Animal rights groups maintain that other methods, including web-based training, eliminate the military's need to train with live animals.
"In the 21st century, preparing cadets to survive in wilderness situations does not necessitate killing animals in training drills," the organization wrote in a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
In the letter, the organization cited a Pentagon policy restricting the use of animals in training. That policy, though, exempts "livestock or poultry used or intended for use as food." PETA says because the animals are used in training, the exemption doesn't apply.
The academy referred all questions about the program to the Pentagon, which said in a brief statement it is "reviewing the issues raised in PETA's letter."
"The Air Force values the humane treatment of animals consistent with current Department of Defense guidance and policy," said Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske.
The animal rights group obtained other documents on how much the academy spends on rabbits used in the training, with receipts for more than $6,000 spent on the animals used to train cadets. Since 2004, PETA and other animal welfare groups have protested a periodic Special Forces medic training program at Fort Carson that uses wounded goats to simulate human patients.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240