Day 1 for Doolies at Air Force Academy

Published June 29, 2007 by Colorado Springs Gazette.

Fresh faces climb onto yellow school buses, some shooting half-smiles to onlooking family members, their last goodbyes until the fall. Only the engine can be heard on the strangely quiet bus until, shortly after turning the corner, less than a minute after departing, the silence breaks.

“All right, all eyes on me,” Cadet Lt. Col. Adam Voci orders the bus of young doolies, or freshmen. “We will not tolerate mediocrity in your actions, because your position calls you to be at your absolute best!”

“Sound off,” he tells a doolie in the back of the bus, “Sound off! You better start yelling cause that’s what I’m doing!”

About 1,250 members of the Air Force Academy Class of 2011 arrived Thursday to go through inprocessing and begin basic cadet training. Another 52 were unable to make it, mainly due to canceled flights out of Dallas, academy officials said.

Once off the bus and through another round of screaming seniors, doolies are sent through a slew of processes. They are assigned squadrons, given hair cuts, immunizations and file life insurance forms before being issued the shoes, boots and uniforms they will wear throughout five of six weeks of basic training this summer.

“Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me,” academy barber Rachael Graham said.

Graham was set off by the blonde curls hanging just above doolie Joshua Johnson’s shoulders.

“The more hair, the better it is when it falls off,” Graham said, shaving Johnson clean within five minutes. “I love short hair.”

Mark Hunter’s brown afro was 6 to 8 inches long before getting on the bus and inevitably having his head shaved bald. From Olympia, Wash., he wants to be an aeronautical engineer. In high school, Hunter ran with the smart kids.

“We all took calculus together,” he said. He has no ROTC or prep experience, and though both his parents were in the Air Force, his mother isn’t sure if he’s ready for the academy.

“Mom might not be ready, but I feel like I am,” he said, unsure of how he will react to the many initiations and rituals he will endure in the coming months. “I’ve read stuff about the academy, but it doesn’t really compare to the experience.”

Brig. Gen. Susan Desjardins will swear in the class of 2011 today. They’ll all be in camouflage uniforms, but much more will be required before they are considered cadets. First year cadets are required to march along the white marble lines that crisscross the main plaza of the academy and earn the right to wear civilian clothing.

They must walk at attention on the right side of hallways, carry all bookbags in their left hand and greet everyone they see, base spokesman John Van Winkle said. Doolies will go through two weeks of learning things like military history, decorum and how to march. Another two weeks are spent in Jacks Valley, where doolies live in a tent city while going through intense training. They will come back to the academy and complete training Aug. 4. Classes will begin the following Thursday.

Two doolies didn’t make it through Thursday, and on average, 70 to 80 doolies drop out of basic training every year because of physical injury or they just can’t take it, Van Winkle said. That path doesn’t seem likely for Darren Stowe, who came to inprocessing with boots around his neck, his head shaved and his parents Terri and Robert following with cameras.

Stowe, who grew up in Colorado Springs until moving near Dallas, has known he wanted to attend the Air Force Academy since he was 5.

“He would watch the gliders and parachutes and say, ‘That’s what I’m going to do Mommy.’ And he did,” his mother said.

She said her son has set the bar high, a year of military prep already under his belt. The recruited athlete will be on the wrestling team, wants to major in engineering, wants to be a pilot and wants to graduate and excel as an officer. “He wants to retire in the military,” Terri said. “He perseveres and doesn’t give up.”

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