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Cadets get fleeting chance to smoke Air Force Academy brass

U.S. Air Force cadets march to lunch at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., on April 30, 2012.

A galaxy of stars was left smoking after the gentle ministrations of the trainers at the Air Force Academy Wednesday.

"Why are you smiling Basic?" cadet Nichole Freeman screamed at Maj. Gen. Gregory Lengyel.

"This is not summer camp, you are in the military," she shouted at Brig. Gen. Andy Armacost.

Those three stars at any other moment could squash cadet Freeman and any of her Air Force Academy classmates. Lengyel is the commandant of cadets and Armacost is the dean of faculty. Cadets who abuse those generals at the school usually see their military dreams end instantly.

But Wednesday brought a brief role reversal as the generals checked out what the academy's latest crop of basic trainees, "doolies" in local patois, will face Thursday morning.

Forced to recite basic commands, and surrounded by howling drill instructors when they failed to stand as straight as a rifle barrel, the generals loved it.

"It's a lot of fun," Lengyel confessed.

Cadet instructors get one shot at the generals on the day before basic training begins. Officials say it gives the training cadre at chance to practice screams and scowls while giving the brass a close inspection of the preparations to welcome freshmen.

The school gets a bumper crop of civilians to train this year, with 1,200 freshmen expected to report for basic training beginning at 7 a.m. Thursday. More than 9,000 hopefuls applied to join the class of 2018.

The first day of basic training is designed to shock the civilian right out of the freshmen class, as they go from street clothes to marching in uniform in a few short hours.

To make that change happen, cadet trainers and other academy airmen have spent a combined 70,000 hours getting ready for the freshmen.

Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said feeling the full force of the trainers shows just a sliver of the effort it takes to greet freshmen cadets.

"You see how hard everybody works," she said. "They want it to be right. You can hear it their voices."

Senior cadet David De Los Santos got his chance to correct the generals as they lined up for inspection.

"For once, the rank isn't the only thing that matters," he said with a grin.

Cadets don't throw caution completely to the winds, however.

"It's a bit intimidating when you see all those stars," said senior cadet Fiona Akoth.

But for a few minutes, cadets are atop generals on the academy food chain.

"You almost feel like you have the power," she said. "Then you know you don't."

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