If they're unlucky, Air Force Academy cadets may find themselves in the wild one day, fighting for survival.
The Academy's Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training Program is meant to prepare cadets for such a scenario. An outline of the class on "sustenance" (provided after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a Freedom of Information Act request following a whistleblower tip), contains helpful tips such as how to find water or how to skin and cook a wild animal.
The class actually provides animals — live chickens and rabbits — for cadets to practice. While the syllabus states that the instructor will ensure that animals are "cared for humanely" and "dispatched in an expedient manner," PETA Senior Laboratory Methods Specialist Shalin Gala describes a more sinister end for the bunnies in a May 10 letter to AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson.
"We were contacted by an individual who reported that cadets bludgeon docile, domesticated rabbits to death during these training exercises," Gala wrote. "This person expressed concern that cadets do not actually learn anything from killing tame animals who are used to being handled by humans ... USAFA has previously informed the media that cadets are taught to kill animals with a rock or club."
Gala outlined legal problems with the program. In June, Johnson emailed Gala, saying she had elevated PETA's complaint to U.S. Air Force Headquarters, since the issue could impact other programs in the branch. Asked about the issue, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said that she couldn't go into details but that, "The Air Force is looking into it right now."
Reached by phone, Gala says PETA has successfully gone after other branches of the military for similar programs as far back as the 1990s.
Gala says he hasn't been given enough detail to know if the animals in the Academy's class suffer — he says he understands that the bunnies are bludgeoned, and the chickens have their necks wrung — but he says he did once witness a rabbit-killing operation in Bolivia where hammers were used, and an imperfect blow led to pain rather than death.
It's worth noting that PETA does not believe animals should be eaten, worn, experimented on or used in entertainment. But Gala says the complaint against the Academy is involves laws and policies he thinks were violated.
First, he notes, AFA records (which were shared with the Independent) show the Academy spent nearly $13,000 in 2014 and 2015 on animals from two Colorado dealers. Gala says that under the Animal Welfare Act:
• the dealers should have registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but it appears they didn't.
• the Academy should have listed the animals in its annual report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but didn't.
The Animal Welfare Act protects many animals not raised for food or fiber, ensuring a standard of care. However, without legal advice, it is difficult to determine what steps were necessary for the dealers and the Academy, because the Act has many exceptions. PETA has filed a complaint with the USDA, which will ultimately decide if violations occurred.
Less confusing is a Department of Defense policy that prohibits the use of animals in training, if other methods are available. Gala says other military use videos and literature instead.
"We're asking that they end these trainings," Gala says, "and switch to more humane, effective, non-animal training methods that have a precedent for being used by the military."
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