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Into the wild blue yonder: US Air Force basic training (pictures)

The service trains 35,000 new recruits each year. CNET Road Trip 2014 visits Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to see what the Airman's Creed is all about.

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Daniel Terdiman

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Booting up

SAN ANTONIO, Texas--Every year, the U.S. Air Force graduates about 35,000 new airmen. Each and every one of them comes to Lackland Air Force Base here, where they spend eight weeks in intensive basic training.

It all begins each week when between 400 and 700 new trainees are brought to Lackland, where they must first get all their gear, including their boots and caps. If they survive the training, they get their airman's coin and join what they are told over and over again is "the best air force the world has ever known."

CNET Road Trip 2014 visited Lackland to see the beginning and ending of the airmen's eight-week journey.

Click here to read my full story on Air Force basic training.

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Warm welcome

After eight weeks of basic training, the trainees become airmen, and their graduation is celebrated by a large contingent of family and friends. Here, a new airman gets a warm welcome from a friend.

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Lining up first thing

New trainees are broken up into squadrons, and then into groups, known as "flights." Here, a flight of fresh trainees waits outside to be brought in, have their heads shaved, and get all their new gear.

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Ready to go in

A flight lines up outside the building where they will get their heads shaved and be given their gear. Though they've barely begun their training, they're already required to stand at attention, be silent, and look straight ahead.

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Duffels in hand

Preparing to go inside the building, the new trainees hold their brand-new duffel bags, which will soon be filled with 40 to 45 pounds of gear.

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Full head of hair

They may come in with short hair or long hair, but if they're male, it's got to go. Here, a new trainee prepares to say goodbye to his full head of hair.

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Shaved head

It took less than two minutes for this trainee, seen in the previous photo with a full head of hair, to have his head shaved. Now he's ready to begin his Air Force training.

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53 years

For 53 years, Lester West has shaved incoming male trainees' heads. Over that time, he said, he's probably shaved more than a million heads.

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Body scan stepping in

The Air Force is using a body scanner to determine each trainee's measurements. Here, a trainee is seen stepping into the body scanner.

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Standing still

A trainee stands still as the body scanner determines his measurements.

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Going through RFID scanner

Each and every piece of gear the trainees are given has an embedded RFID tag. When they have suited up and have everything else in their duffel or in their hands, they walk through this scanner, which is meant to determine if they have everything they need.

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Ready to check out

A brand-new trainee, boots in hand and hat on head, prepares to check out. His eight-week journey to becoming an Air Force airman has begun.

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Rules to follow

These rules are posted on the wall for trainees to read and follow as they wait for processing. It's clear, from the last rule in the list, that this sign has been posted since a sexual harassment/assault scandal rocked the Air Force a few years ago. Many of the new procedures in place at Lackland have been instituted in response to the scandal, in which dozens of female trainees said they were sexually assaulted by instructors.

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Beds and lockers

In a brand-new dormitory building, trainees' beds and lockers are perfectly made and organized during the day while they go through training exercises.

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Training rifles

Trainees learn to work with these rifles, which cannot fire live rounds, but which will be used in all weapon drills during their time at Lackland.

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Firing positions

Trainees do a wide range of drills during their time at Lackland Air Force Base, including learning how to work from a firing position like this one. Unfortunately, no live training was going on when CNET Road Trip visited.

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Classroom

Trainees spend several hours every day in classrooms, learning the academic portion of their Air Force education. Classrooms are filled with non-networked computers. They are not allowed normal outside contact during their eight weeks of training, though they are allowed a few short phone calls to friends or family. They may not access any kind of social media during the training period.

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Training tracks

The trainees go through regular physical exercise, including running around a large track near their barracks. Based on the speed of previous runs, they are categorized into groups, each of which has a specific color. The slowest runners use the red lane, while the fastest use the blue lane. This is meant to apply peer pressure to get better as they proceed through training.

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Here they come

After eight weeks, the trainees graduate. But a day before the formal graduation ceremony, they take part in what is known as the "airman's run," where each of the flights dresses in special shirts and runs over this bridge and through a gantlet of their friends and family members.

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Airman's run

Carrying a group of flags, graduating airmen continue the Airman's run.

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Running in red

A group of soon-to-be graduates dressed in the red t-shirts of their flight makes their way through the Airman's run.

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Family with sign

Friends and family line a street at Lackland Air Force base for the Airman's run. Many hold signs that celebrate their loved ones' achievement.

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Through the crowd

The soon-to-be graduates make their way through the crowd.

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Running through signs

Two flights pass by lined up family and friends, some of whom carry signs celebrating the soon-to-be graduates.

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Arriving for coin ceremony

The day before they officially graduate, the new airmen go through what is known as the Coin Ceremony, where they are given the ceremonial coin that signifies their entrance into the Air Force. Here, a flight arrives at the ceremony as hundreds of friends and family, as well as the airmen's instructors look on.

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Congratulating top airman

Col. Michele Edmondson, the commander of Air Force basic training, congratulates the top airman, as measured by a wide range of criteria, during the coin ceremony.

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Tray of coins

A tray of coins, each of which will be given to a graduating airman. They will likely hold on to those coins for the rest of their Air Force career.

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Giving the coin

An instructor hands out a coin to a graduating airman.

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Big hug

After the Coin Ceremony, friends and family get their first chance to hug their graduating loved one since training began eight weeks earlier.

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Instructors marching

A group of military training instructors march at the official graduation ceremony the next day.

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Flight marching

Each flight marches around the ceremony grounds, in front of their friends and family, as well as gathered instructors, Air Force commanders, and other dignitaries.

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Marching with flags

Airmen carrying the flags of the United States, the Air Force, and each of the states represented by graduating airmen march on graduation day.

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The oath

The graduates take their official oath to the Air Force.

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The next generation?

Master Sgt. David Drennon, who leads all the basic training instructors, with his two daughters. The son of an Air Force family himself, could he have fathered the next generation of Air Force airmen?

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