It’s Army-Navy week where the MILITARY Academy and the Naval Academy (there’s a reason behind the names) ramp up school spirit culminating at the annual Army-Navy football game. One of the more spectacular pranks is mascot stealing of which much has been written. I was personally involved in the most obscure and largely unreported mascot snatching prank in the great Army Navy rivalry that included Cadets, a Limo & Delta Force and would like to share it here with you.
I was a Tac at West Point in the mid 90′s. A Tactical Officer or “Tac” is the primary “personal development” officer for each cadet, the officer responsible for each cadet becoming a “leader of character” using the academic, physical and military programs as measures and tools. Legally speaking, the Tac is actually the company commander holding UCMJ authority over cadets but should remain in the background using the cadet company as a leadership laboratory cooking up future Army officers. He is assisted with a Tac NCO who is a senior NCO specially selected to assist in the process.
Around 08:00 the Friday before Labor Day weekend 1995 I received a call to an immediate unannounced and unprecedented all hands meeting with the Commandant, Brigadier General Robert J. St. Onge. As we filed into the Commandant’s conference room there was a low murmur as “Tac’s” speculated what the meeting was about. We were simultaneously relieved we weren’t being individually summoned a sure sign one of your cadets was in trouble but the all-encompassing and unannounced nature of the meeting was little compensation. The meeting began with the Brigade Tactical officer briefing the 36 TACs that ESPN reported a rumor that the Navy goat was missing. A call by the Naval Academy inquiring if West Point had anything to do with it had been made to the Superintendent, a three star general. We were directed to scour our companies for any leads.
The Academy’s superintendents had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) prohibiting mascot stealing. This was the result of a notorious mascot snatch by Navy in ’91, the only time Army mules have been kidnapped. It was reported the cadet guards were overpowered, the mule snatched and driven a back way to the Naval Academy while state police searched the highway for the mule (what wasn’t often reported was that the guards were actually Army MP’s and one had his arm broken reputedly by Navy SEALs). The mule was transported in a U-Haul on a roundabout route with State Police in pursuit to the Naval Academy which had received an urgent call by Army Generals to return the mule. The Navy returned the mule after parading it at a pre-game rally at the Naval Academy.
The concern was escalating pranking was going to get someone killed. At the end of our meeting the Commandant stated that Labor Day passes were going to be rescinded effective at 1200. The Corps would be locked down if the “goatnappers” didn’t turn themselves in and risked UCMJ if they forced that decision. As I left the meeting little did I know this escapade was to involve me personally honchoing an “adventure” that would include a 1200 mile trip, $5000 cash, avoiding national/local media and negotiating with members of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), commonly known as Delta Force.
I returned to my company casually informing the cadet company commander about the situation. I was pretty unconcerned about the matter. While always fair, I had the reputation as one of the stricter TACs and frankly didn’t expect anything to come of it (famous last words…). Around 1100, my cadet CO returned asking if I thought the Commandant was serious about locking down 4000 cadets, cancelling the holiday plans of the same and what might happen to any alleged culprits.
“Crap,” I thought to myself, “something’s happening”. I reiterated the Commandant’s message and intent communicating my belief that it wasn’t a bluff. The cadet left and I reported to higher, news was about to break. Shortly thereafter I was surprised by one of the company’s best cadets who came in to negotiate. I explained to Cadet “C” that while I personally thought the prank hilarious, the generals did not. Immunity was off the table but so was UCMJ if the crew fessed up.
Minutes before the 1200 deadline, the ringleader (later, I would find the term “raid commander” more appropriate) turned himself in. I, Cadet “C”, Cadet “CAG” (short for Combat Applications Group, another nickname for Delta), his Tac (I’ve forgotten the names) and the Brigade Tactical Officer (BTO) were summoned to the Commandant’s office. The Commandant expressed his strong displeasure to the cadets and dismissed them. The “Comm” and BTO put the finishing details on a plan already in motion stressing the absolute necessity of avoiding the media and creating a scandal. As my fellow Tac breathed a sigh of relief they turned to me and “nominated” me to lead the “rescue” effort. Navy’s goat was being held at an unknown location over 600 miles away in the Ft. Bragg area by some members of a certain JSOC unit.
I opened the cheap gov’t issued briefcase…
(Cue up the “Mission Impossible” theme)
“Good afternoon Captain. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (uh, never mind that part) is rescue Navy’s mascot. You and your team will insert into the Ft. Bragg area and convince “goatsitting” Delta Force members to return the Navy’s goat. The Army mule’s unmarked horse trailer has already been dispatched on a different and classified route for you to transport the goat once you secure your priceless cargo. National media will be focused on the Navy goat Monday morning so you have 60 hours to get to Ft. Bragg, secure the goat and transport the 350 miles to the Naval Academy with no national media coverage. Enclosed is $5000 in unmarked bills, plane tickets, a satellite phone (ok, it was actually a gov’t cell phone which was a big deal 20 years ago) and link up info for the mule trailer. Should you be compromised as we would do for any “You Have to be Kidding Force” mission we will disavow any knowledge and give away your parking space. Good luck Captain. This briefcase isn’t worth self destructing.”
In all seriousness, the Generals and Admirals did not think the issue was a laughing matter. There had already been heated calls from Naval Academy and Pentagon Admirals incensed over the prank and the “property damage” suffered while kidnapping the goat. There was tremendous pressure to keep the story under wraps and it was communicated to me multiple times by the Generals and the Colonels that worked for them. What can I say, no sense of humor even as PC was dawning.
Two hours later Cadet “CAG” and I were on a plane to Bragg. I rented a car and checked into the cheap hotel the Academy booked us into. On the way down, I got the fascinating story on how the goat was snatched. Cadet “CAG” an exceptionally physically fit cadet, was one of five cadets selected to attend the grueling Army Combat Diver School at Key West Florida during the summer. While there he befriended some Delta members who were open to participating in the Navy goat snatch especially after hearing about reputed SEAL participation four years earlier in the Army mule prank.
Cadet “CAG” and his crew greatly impressed me with their planning and execution. They decided to kidnap the goat in Sep three months before the game because as the game approached goat security increased dramatically to the point where during game week the Goat is moved from the civilian farm to Naval Academy grounds with a Marine guard detail. That intelligence came from Army cadets participating in an exchange program with the Naval Academy.
The cadets did detailed reconnaissance including visiting the farm, surveilling it, taking photos and timing routes. Cadet CAG and Cadet “C”s planning was meticulous. The plan was to breach the goat pen from an unlit area that was difficult to see from the farmhouse, breach, snatch and security personnel were selected. They even had a cadet wearing a tuxedo feigning being broken down on the road to distract police should one be in the area. As a final touch to ensure secrecy and throw off any investigation cadet girlfriend’s credit cards were used to avoid a money trail.
After snatching the goat the plan was to head south to Bragg and cache the goat with Delta vs. driving north in the event the police were alerted as had been the case in ’91. Delta secured the goat on a Delta veteran’s farm for care, deniability, distance and to minimize UCMJ pressure. A psyops media campaign was planned during the goat’s three month internment with the hopeful goal of “turning the goat”. (OK, I’m exaggerating a little. A goat is a goat.)
After arriving at the hotel, the cadet called his Delta contact. He refused to surrender the goat. Cadet CAG arranged a meeting. Shortly after, a combative, slim, long haired, shaggy bearded, jeans wearing, flannel shirted, cowboy booted character showed up. He boisterously proceeded to bombard me with UCMJ being ridiculous (not his words) and how “chickenpoop” (again not his words) the generals were being. After venting some emotion he may have noticed my class As laying on the bed (for a hopeful Navy link up) and mellowed tremendously (I’m not a big deal especially in comparison to a member of Delta but with only 20% of the force wearing a combat patch and my crossed rifles maybe he felt we could relate).
We had a heart to heart. I explained that while I was old school and thought the whole thing a brilliant idea and hilarious feat the powers that be did not. He responded that he didn’t work for my generals. I agreed, but Admirals will complain to Generals and from my short perch there wasn’t a lot of happiness at the Pentagon and eventually crap always rolls downhill. His final play was that he wasn’t the only guy in the squadron that knew about the goat and that he might be “intercepted” returning the goat and lose control of it since there was some annoyance over the SEAL involvement years earlier which is why Delta was involved in the first place. To that I said, “I’m not a fan of the Navy goat and they might be able to extend the hilarity but that sounded kind of dangerous for the goat. I’m just the messenger and that while I like Cadet “CAG” his butt wasn’t mine and extending this drama might not be good for anyone.” There was little doubt Academy leadership wasn’t going to award the cadets involved with the “Order of the Goat” a counter to the Naval Academy’s leadership awarding the “Order of the Mule” to their midshipmen who had completed the same prank years earlier.
At that point he and the Cadet chatted briefly agreeing the goat would be returned the next day. The Cadet asked if he could have a beer and dinner with the operator to which I agreed. It was likely going to be the last beer he would have for months.
The next morning the goat arrived. I had the mule trailer pre-positioned and had coordinated for the post vet to examine the goat before driving north. The vet’s son was a plebe and I remember him asking for a lock of goat hair for him. With neither a yes or no I smiled and faced the opposite direction. Just then a local TV crew arrived. Crap, a parting gift from Delta, a “hot LZ”. They stuck a mic in my face and demanded we open the trailer as their film crew set up. We blew the claymores, popped smoke and emptied our magazines (metaphorically) and bid a hasty departure from the roach coach hotel. They reported the story locally but it didn’t get a lot of traction and ESPN never picked up on it.
On the way back, a General at the Pentagon I knew (the previous commandant) called and tried to convince me to come to the Pentagon for a picture of the goat on the steps of the Pentagon. With the strenuous reminders of various general officer displeasure ringing in my ears I declined knowing I would likely share the cadet’s fate considering my COC’s complete lack of a sense of humor.
We conducted the goat homecoming at Navy’s stadium parking lot. The Navy Lieutenant was highly charged and started haranguing the cadet about disobeying a flag officer’s order, UCMJ etc. He was especially upset about the damage to property asking if West Point cadets knew how to open an unlocked gate. At that point I interrupted him. I stated if he had a lick of tactical sense you’d know you don’t come in the front door especially if it’s well lit. The cadet was going to have to pay for his actions. I also reminded him that the Naval Academy needed to do a better job of keeping their goat on a leash. “Oh, before I can turn the goat over to you I need you to sign this hand receipt. ” He signed it and as he handed it back I said “thanks’ and “Beat Navy”.
On 3 December 1995 I accompanied the Corps of Cadets to Veteran’s stadium in Philadelphia as an officer representative. I was hoarse from cheering as I watched Army complete a 99 yard scoring drive to win the game 14-13 with 60 seconds left. It was the fourth win of a five win streak over Navy, tied for biggest Army over Navy winning streak in history. So that ends the tale of how Army, Delta and I got the “Navy’s goat”.
On Saturday 12 December Army meets Navy again for the 116th time. I hope Army can break Navy’s unprecedented 13 game winning streak during which the goat has been “captured” twice. While many news outlets report Army-Navy mascot theft at 3-1 (Army got Navy’s goat in ’53)b they all leave out the above incident. Let’s hope for another surprise this Saturday. Beat Navy!