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Health, safety are top priorities as cadets begin academic year

Story by Ray Bowden, photos by Trevor Cokley, Aug. 12, 2020

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — School is again in session at the Air Force Academy with more than 4,000 cadets back in class.

The academic year began Aug. 12, with cadets attending classes both online and in small groups to give them more room to maneuver between classmates and allow for maximum social distancing.

Senior officials and medical experts at the base are relying on deliberate precautions to decrease the spread of the coronavirus, including numerous COVID-19 tests for each student and social-distancing measures in and out of class. Face masks are mandatory in public and in class.

The new school year begins after six months of adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, with most freshmen, sophomores and juniors leaving the school in March to finish their classes online. The entire cadet wing returned late last month.

“In general, it’s been a really crazy experience, but I honestly think this is one of the safest places in the country,” said Cadet 1st Class Scott Culbreth, a computer science major.

Culbreth said adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for all cadets.

“We always like to say ‘this has never been done before’ at the Academy, but this has truly never been done before, but I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”

Cadet 2nd Class Tanisha Elbourne, a humanities major, understands the concerns of parents and relatives of cadets.

“It’s been a very weird time,” she said. “It’s OK for them to worry. We’re their kids. The precautions seem extreme, but I understand why. There’s not a cause to worry.”

Most of Culbreth’s classes occur online, one of the benefits of being a computer science major, he said. Most of Elbourne’s core humanities classes are online and many of her professors are taking advantage of online learning to cut down on classroom attendance.

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the Academy’s superintendent, said the resiliency cadets continue to demonstrate in the face of the pandemic will benefit them as Air Force or Space Force officers.

“My top priority remains your health, safety and mission accomplishment, and I wish each of you an incredible year of learning and growth,” he said.

Elbourne said she understands and accept the need for social distancing and other safety measures, but had a request for cadet parents.

“Send us video games,” she said.

More photos by Trevor Cokley