An animal-rights groups on Wednesday launched protests of the Air Force Academy's killing of rabbits and chickens as part of a survival training program for cadets.
The academy program has been around since the 1960s and trains cadets how to live in the wilderness and evade enemy forces. It stems from an older Air Force Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion program that's has been used to train flight crews since World War II.
As part of the program, cadets are trained to kill and cook their own food under primitive conditions. Live rabbits and chickens are killed and eaten, prompting the protest from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"Beating tame rabbits to death is both cruel and unnecessary," Kathy Guillermo, PETA's senior vice president of laboratory investigations, said in a statement. "PETA is calling on the U.S. Air Force Academy to stop killing animals and to join other military units in using humane and effective non-animal training methods."
The academy referred all questions about the program to the Pentagon, which had no immediate comment.
Air Force survival training programs were designed for downed flight crews, allowing airmen to live in the wild while evading enemy forces. At the academy, cadets are run through a 10-day program that includes training on how the Air Force rescues flight crews and combat skills.
According to Air Force documents obtained by PETA under the Freedom of Information Act, the program also focuses on killing and preparing game.
"Instructor will ensure that live animals are cared for humanely," a training manual for the program says. "Cadre will ensure that animals are dispatched in an expedient manner."
The manual says students as a group join in the training, learning how to skin, butcher, and cook the animals. The training takes place during the summer, when cadets are out of class.
The animal-rights group obtained other documents on how much the academy spends on rabbits and chickens used in the training, with receipts for more than $6,000 spent on the animals used to train cadets.
PETA says it asked the academy to stop the practice in May, but hasn't gotten an answer.
The animal-rights group has protested other military training programs using animals in the Pikes Peak region.
Since 2004, PETA and other animal welfare groups have lodged protests against a periodic Special Forces medic training program at Fort Carson that uses wounded goats to simulate human patients.
The animal-rights groups maintain that other methods, including web-based training, eliminate the military's need to train with live animals.
"In the 21st century, preparing cadets to survive in wilderness situations does not necessitate killing animals in training drills," the organization wrote in a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
In the letter, the organization cited a Pentagon policy restricting the use of animals in training. That policy, though, exempts "livestock or poultry used or intended for use as food."