- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

COLORADO SPRINGS (AP) — The first four days of basic training at the U.S. Air Force Academy will not be as punishing as usual for the first class of freshmen to enter the academy since a rape scandal erupted this year.

In the past, upperclassmen yelled at and otherwise hounded the “doolies” from the moment they stepped on buses for the ride to campus, through the five-week, “boot camp”-style basic training that cadets undergo in the summer before their first term at the military institution.

The academy’s new commandant, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, disclosed the change yesterday, explaining that he wants incoming cadets’ first four days to be relatively low-stress ones.

The idea is to give them a chance to better absorb information on military law, sexual assault, gender sensitivity and other issues, Gen. Weida told the Associated Press.

“It will be as tough as it ever was, but it will be professional,” said Gen. Weida, a 1978 academy graduate. “It’s not harassment, not a fraternity, not a rite of passage. It’s about giving them the tools they will need in our professional Air Force.”

The academy has been in turmoil since February, when some female cadets complained that their accusations of sexual assault or abuse were downplayed and they were punished for making reports. The academy’s four top commanders have been replaced, and four investigations were opened.

Tomorrow, about 1,300 incoming freshmen, including a near-record 222 women, will step off buses at the base of the Warrior Ramp.

A sign that loomed over the ramp from the academy’s early days, reading “Bring Me Men,” was removed at the recent leadership ouster.

But most other traditions of the summer training remain.

As they form up at the base of the ramp, cadets will place their feet, facing out at a 45-degree angle with heels together, in black footprints painted on a white rectangle before marching onto the main campus.

After the four-day introduction, Gen. Weida said, the grueling basic-training regimen will return to its traditional look with strict adherence to rules that might seem bizarre to civilians, double-time marching between buildings, and intense physical training.

Incoming cadets will spend their first three weeks on the main campus, where they will be restricted to walking along slim marble pathways on the Terrazzo — the quadrangle surrounded by dormitories, the 17-spire chapel, classrooms and administrative buildings.

Every day, they will see a wall near the chapel bearing the honor code: “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.”

In the final two weeks of basic training, the freshmen will camp at nearby Jack’s Valley and run obstacle courses, experience simulated combat conditions on assault courses and conduct team-building exercises.

The report on the first investigation, released last week by a team of Air Force officials, said there was no systemic acceptance of sexual assault and no avoidance of responsibility when female cadets reported attacks.

Another investigation, by an independent panel ordered by Congress, began Monday and is assigned the task of concluding whether any academy leaders are to blame for the problems. The Air Force inspector general and the Pentagon also are investigating.

Gen. Weida said numerous changes have been made at the academy, and said it remains one of the safest college campuses in the world.

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