Here’s a never before reported story about the great Army Navy rivalry and mascot snatching prank that included Delta Force and SEALs.
I was a Tac at West Point in the mid 90′s. The Friday before Labor Day weekend ’95 the commandant called an unannounced and unprecedented all hands meeting at 0900. At the meeting he shared with the 36 TACs that ESPN had reported that the Navy goat had been snatched and we were to scour our companies for any leads.
The Academies superintendents had signed an MOA stating mascots were off limits and a standing order was in place prohibiting the practice. This stemmed from a notorious Army mule snatch in ’91. 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 reported was that the guards were actually Army MPs and one had his arm broken and that SEALs were involved).
The concern was the escalation in pranking was going to get someone killed. The Commandant stated that Labor Day passes were going to be cancelled effective at 1200 and the Corps would be locked down if the goatnappers didn’t turn themselves in and risked UCMJ if they forced that decision.
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 Delta.
I returned to my company and informed the cadet company commander about the situation. I was pretty nonchalant about the matter. I had a reputation as one of the stricter TACs and frankly didn’t expect anything to come of it (SUCKER). Around 1100, my cadet CO returned asking if I thought the Commandant was serious about locking down 4000 cadets and what might happen to any alleged culprits.
“Crap,” I thought to myself, “something’s giving”. I reiterated the Commandants message. The cadet left and I reported to higher. Shortly thereafter surprisingly one of my best cadets came in to negotiate. Long story short, while I personally thought the prank hilarious, the generals did not and they weren’t going to “negotiate”. 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 [censored], Cadet “CAG” and his TAC (I’ve forgotten the names) were summoned to the Commandant’s office. We left with a plan where I was nominated 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.
(Cue up the mission impossible theme in your mind)
As I opened the cheap gov’t issued briefcase (that was actually a briefcase)…
“Good afternoon Captain. The mission, should you choose to accept it is to rescue Navy’s mascot held by Delta operators somewhere in the Bragg area and return it to the Naval Academy without national media coverage. Enclosed is $5000, plane tickets, a satellite phone (ok, it was actually a gov’t cell phone which was a big deal 15 years ago) and link up info for the mule trailer which is being dispatched on a different and classified route. 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 was tremendous pressure to keep the story under wraps and it was communicated to me multiple times by flag rank officers. 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 where I rented a car and checked into a cheap hotel where we shared the room (no I’m not going there). On the way down I got the whole story. During the summer Cadet “CAG” was one of five cadets to attend the Army Combat Diver School. While there he befriended some Delta members who were later open to participating in the prank especially after hearing about SEAL participation several years earlier in the previous mascot snatch.
Cadet “CAG” and his crew frankly 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 that Marine guards were detailed to guard the goat the week of the game. Before that point the goat is housed on an unsecured farm off the Naval Academy grounds. That intel came from cadet exchange students that were at Navy.
The cadets did detailed reconnaissance to include visiting the farm, surveilling it, taking photos and timing routes. Their planning was meticulous also. They planned to breach the goat pen from in an unlit area that was difficult to see from the farmhouse, breach, snatch and security personnel were detailed. They even had a cadet in a limousine feign being broken down on the road police would likely use if requested as a hoped for distraction. They used girlfriend’s credit cards 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 physically put the goat on a veteran’s farm for care, deniability, distance and to minimize UCMJ pressure (it’s doubtful an academy would want to involve local or federal law enforcement).
The three month internment was to be used to conduct a media campaign and hopefully “turn the goat”. (OK, I’m exaggerating a little. A goat is a goat.)
Once we got to the hotel room the cadet contacted his Delta contact who refused to surrender the goat and demanded a meeting. A combative slim, long haired unshaven jeans flannel shirt cowboy booted character showed up shortly after. He proceeded to argue with me about UCMJ being ridiculous (not his words) and how “chickenpoop” (again not his words) the generals were being.
After venting some emotion he noticed my class As laying on the bed (for a Navy link up hopefully) and mellowed tremendously (I’m not a big deal compared to a member of Delta but I wasn’t chickenpoop either when only 20% of the force wore a combat patch let alone other “stuff”).
We proceeded to have a heart to heart and while I told him I was old school and thought the whole thing was a hilarious the powers that be did not. To which he explained 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 they were involved. To that I said, “I’m just the messenger and that while I like Cadet “CAG” his butt wasn’t mine.”
At that point he and the Cadet chatted briefly and agreed that 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 explaining it was likely the last beer he would have for a while but to not come back drunk.
The next morning the goat arrived. I had already pre-positioned the mule trailer and driver and coordinated for the post vet to examine the goat before driving north. The vet’s son was a plebe and I remember him asking to cut off a lock of hair for him. I faced the opposite direction. Just then a local TV crew arrived. I suspected it was a parting gift from Delta. They reported but it didn’t get a lot of traction and ESPN never picked up on it.
On the way back I don’t remember how it happened but a General at the Pentagon I knew called and tried to convince me to come to the Pentagon for a picture. I declined knowing I would be sharing the cadet’s fate considering my COC’s lack of a sense of humor.
We did 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. at which point I interrupted him and said, “Relax, we’ll take care of him. You on the other hand need to take better care of securing your animals oh, and sign this hand receipt.” He signed it. I told him, “Beat Navy” and left.