Bad Hare Day For Air Force

Air Force Academy cadets kill domestic rabbits for food when they go through their intensive combat survival training course. Now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is asking the academy to stop the practice of bludgeoning the rabbits.

PETA wrote a protest letter to academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Tad Oelstrom.

"It is pointless to practice killing docile animals that `starving' soldiers in real life situations would never have difficulty killing," PETA wrote.

"We recognize the value of survival training in general. However, these exercises fail to teach relevant skills ... such as recognizing edible plant foliage and sources for water extraction," the letter continued.

PETA also said the practice occurs at five training courses at four installations: the Air Force Academy; Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash.; the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif.; and the U.S. Army JFK Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, N.C.

PETA obtained documents that showed the academy purchased 438 rabbits at a cost of $3,066 during June and July 1998.

Academy spokesman Neil Talbott defended the use of rabbits.

"We are preparing young people to go into a hostile environment and survive in any climate at any time. It could be the dead of winter and the only thing they have available to them is obtaining game to survive on," Talbott said.

Cadets are taught to kill the animals quickly and humanely with a rock or club, he said. They also are taught how to identify and forgo diseased animals, how to field dress and prepare the rabbits for eating and how to preserve them.

During their 11 days in the field, 350 to 400 cadets must survive on fewer than 150 rabbits, but they also are taught to identify edible and toxic plants, retrieve water and eat such things as insects, fish, birds and reptiles, he said.

"This is a very serious thing. We do not abuse this. We do use them for food. We use every bit of them we possibly can," Talbott said.

The course also teaches such things as enemy evasion and night navigation, Talbott said.

When Capt. Scott O'Grady, a U.S. pilot, was shot down over Bosnia in June 1995, he credited his training at Fairchild for his six-day survival behind enemy lines.

O'Grady survived on plants, not animals, PETA said.

"I sympathize with PETA, but we have a mission," Talbott said. "We're training soldiers to survive, and it's working."