A brawl left 27 cadets injured after an Air Force Academy tradition of throwing the first cadet first sergeant into the snow. Above, cadets line up at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Air Force)
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An Air Force Academy tradition of throwing cadet first sergeants into the snow ended in a brawl that left 27 cadets in need of medical care Oct. 25, according to an internal academy email obtained by Air Force Times.
Cadets participating in a tradition known as First Shirt/First Snow suffered a wide range of injuries including concussions, cuts that required stitches, and a human bite on the arm of at least one cadet, according to an email sent to academy department heads and deputy heads by Dean of Faculty Brigadier Gen. Dana Born.
"Per the commandant — On Thursday night the cadets carried out a ritual known as First Shirt/First Snow, a ‘tradition' that goes back to an unknown time in the past since we've added cadet first sergeants to the cadet squadrons," Born wrote in the Oct. 28 email. "This ritual has devolved to become increasingly violent, with significant numbers of cadets requiring medical care over the past two years. What used to be four degrees throwing the first shirt into the snow has turned into a brawl between upperclassmen defending the first sergeant and the four degrees trying to capture the first sergeant.
"Obviously, this has gotten out of hand and cannot be repeated," Born wrote in her email. "There is no way we can condone or defend this."
Born's email does not say how many cadets participated in the incident, but she did write that "many cadets did not participate." Of those who did, "many cadet squadrons kept things under control," she wrote.
But not every cadet squadron was able to keep the First Shirt/First Snow event from getting out of hand.
"A number of cadet squadrons did not keep things under control, which resulted in  cadets needing medical care, from stitches to concussions to treatment of a human bite on the arm," she wrote.
New Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Greg Lengyel held two commandant's calls on Oct. 27 to address the issue, Born's email said. In the email, Born indicated that while Lengyel found the brawl unacceptable, he might be amenable to allowing cadets to keep some version of the tradition if they presented him a proposal for how it could be executed with "good order and discipline and proper risk management."
Lengyel declined an interview request, but through a spokesman provided a statement. "A relatively small number of cadets chose to take part in this unsafe activity. This incident was unacceptable," Lengyel said. "Our Air Force expects better. I expect better, and I'm confident the cadets will learn and grow from this."