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West Point Investigating Pillow Fight That Turned into Bloody Brawl

A video screen grab shows West Point cadets participating in a violent pillow fight on Aug. 20, 2015, that left 24 of 30 injured participants with concussions. (Photo YouTube via Stars & Stripes)
A video screen grab shows West Point cadets participating in a violent pillow fight on Aug. 20, 2015, that left 24 of 30 injured participants with concussions. (Photo YouTube via Stars & Stripes)

Thirty U.S. Military Academy cadets required treatment for mild concussions, bloody noses, split lips and other injuries when a traditional free-for-all pillow fight among plebes intended as a morale builder turned into a brawl.

Some of the participants in the Aug. 20 pillow fight that marked the end of summer training apparently were determined to win. They loaded up their pillows with helmets and other hard objects that resulted in several cadets being knocked unconscious, according to the New York Times, which first reported the incident.

The final injury toll was 24 concussions -- none of them severe -- a broken nose, a dislocated shoulder, a hairline fracture of a cheekbone and possibly a broken leg. All of the injured have returned to duty.

The pillow fight is a long-standing rite of passage for first year cadets to build camaraderie and let off steam after a rigorous summer of training. "Previous plebe classes have done similar events over the years," Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., the Academy's Superintendent, said in a statement.

Because the event turned bloody, "A military police investigation that began the night of the incident is ongoing. I assure you that the chain of command will take appropriate action when the investigation is complete," Caslen said.

Academy medical personnel followed established protocols for continued monitoring of those who suffered concussions. "In addition, the chain of command and medical professionals will continue follow-up with these cadets to address any negative impact on their performance or experience as a cadet," Caslen said.

The pillow fight was one of many extra-curricular events at the Academy meant to build espirit de corps but "we never condone any activity that results in intentional harm to a teammate," Caslen said. "Although the vast majority of the class appears to have maintained the spirit of the event; it is apparent that a few did not."

As Superintendent, Caslen said he took full responsibility for the pillow fight gone wrong. "We remain committed to the development of leaders of character," he said. "We will continue our investigation, ensure accountability, and reinforce with the Corps that we must all take care of our teammates."

The other military academies have similar morale building events that occasionally result in injuries when participants get carried away. In 2012, a traditional snowball fight at the Air Force Academy turned into a brawl in which 27 cadets were injured.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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