A few months ago the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals found out that Air Force Academy survival school students kill rabbits and chickens as part of their training regimen. So PETA submitted a petition from its membership asking the Air Force to stop.
The Air Force said no.
USAFA cadets do, in fact, kill, skin, cook, and eat rabbits in the Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training Program. The "sustenance" portion of the class teaches cadets how to find water as well as skin and cook a wild animal.
Air Force spokesman Zachary Anderson told the Air Force Times in July 2016 the Air Force tries to find the best balance between the humane treatment of animals and properly preparing aircrew cadets for real-world scenarios.
"The Air Force is aware of PETA's concerns," Anderson said. "However, the use of animals in Air Force survival training plays a critical role in equipping our airmen with skills needed to stay alive in a combat environment."
While PETA wants the USAF to get out of the animal business entirely, the animal rights group also alleges the rabbits are sourced from a business that routinely violates the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Citing a FOIA request, PETA says the academy doesn't file proper reports to the Department of Agriculture on the number of rabbits and chickens used and that the dealers aren't even registered with the Agriculture Department.
"We were contacted by an individual who reported that cadets bludgeon docile, domesticated rabbits to death during these training exercises," PETA Senior Laboratory Methods Specialist Shalin Gala wrote the Colorado Springs Independent. "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."
The Department of Agriculture did not have an open investigation at the time of the academy's refusal to give up the practice.
The Air Force Times' Stephen Losey found the animals are sourced from Fancy Pants Rabbitry, a Gunnison, Colorado-based supplier. Fancy Pants' owner Kathy Morgan, vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
"Our rabbits are raised in compliance with USDA standards as far as cage sizes and operations, so we are comfortable our rabbits are raised in the best possible conditions," Morgan said. "They are treated humanely, and when necessary, they are dispatched humanely. I'm comfortable with the quality of our product and the quality of their lives while they're with us."
Fancy Pants sold roughly 300 rabbits per year for the past two years to the USAF Academy. PETA is correct that Morgan's business is not registered with the USDA. Because it sells rabbits as food and meat, it is registered with the FDA.
There is a precedent for giving up meat in the field. DoD directives require that other means of training besides animals are to be used whenever possible. PETA was instrumental in the animal "sustenance" portion of the Army's Dugway Proving Grounds survival course and the Marine Corps' Mountain Warfare Training Center, saying tame chickens and rabbits are unlikely to be found in a combat zone.
The animal rights group wants the academy to switch to book and classroom learning.