New Air Force Academy basic cadets learn teamwork, leadership, strength at Jacks Valley
By DANAE BUCCI | The Gazette | Published: July 26, 2019
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — One by one, a group of basic cadets — covered in sweat and gasping for air — lunged out of a storage container filled with tear gas.
The exercise was part of basic training, a 40-day period intended to turn more than 1,000 incoming Air Force Academy basics from civilians into full-fledged airmen.
First, they learn about military discipline in the classroom. Then they apply what they've learned, completing seven physical training exercises during a 10-day stay at Jacks Valley, a 3,300-acre training area on the north end of the academy.
Each challenge is meant to grow their sense of leadership, test their strength and show off their teamwork.
"Team work's huge down here at Jacks Valley," said Price Morgan, course commander for Jacks Valley. "Everyone's working together to accomplish a goal that they probably wouldn’t be able to do alone."
The cadets-in-training marched to Jacks Valley on Sunday. They plan to return Wednesday.
Each challenge varies in intention and intensity.
Some went through a 16-obstacle "confidence course" Thursday, testing their grip strength, core strength and fear of heights as their teammates cheered them along.
They walked across horizontal tree logs at least three feet off the ground, slid down fireman's poles and swung from rope swings, proudly screaming "Confidence!" after each challenge.
"It's all about team building and encouraging your teammates to get through," said Cadet First Class Michael Smith.
On the other side of the training complex, the basic cadets were not as enthusiastic. They had to inhale one to two breaths of tear gas before running out of the makeshift gas room — part of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials exercise that shows the basics they can trust their equipment.
They entered the small metal storage container wearing what looked like hazmat suits, remaining inside for about five minutes as the room filled with the chemical weapon. Then they were instructed to remove their masks and run out.
The exercise is described as one of the most memorable parts of basic training at Jacks Valley, the other being the "assault course."
"It's definitely the most mentally and physically challenging thing you probably do at the academy,” said Blake Fall, commander of the assault course.
Upper-class cadets known as the cadre yelled at the basics as the sound of grenades and rifles filled the air, upping the challenge's intensity.
"We want these basics to be able to think and perform under high-stress, high-intensity situations," Fall said.
Although the challenge is difficult, Fall said it's good for the basics.
"It's kind of special and it's supposed to be hard," he said. "You do it with your buddies, and you come out with a better bond that you've probably ever had.”