Under cover of darkness over the weekend, Army cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point snuck into a secret compound on a mission so dear to the cadet corps that it has survived generations of developing wars and official reproaches: to steal Bill. goat.
The Goat is the mascot of the Naval Academy, 37th in the line of rams of various breeds that were awarded this award. All 37 were named Bill, and over the past 70 years, Army cadets have kidnapped Bill at least 10 times since 1953 with a plan that included a convertible and some chloroform.
The naval midshipmen once captured army mule mascots. And the cadets of the Air Force Academy committed several robberies.
The rallies, euphemistically referred to as spirit missions, are usually timed to coincide with the annual army and navy soccer game, at which the mascots of both sides are to appear.
The theft of the mascot is officially banned by a formal summit agreement signed in 1992 after naval midshipmen cut phone lines and zipped six army personnel while stealing West Point mules. But pranks are so deeply rooted in the tradition of rivalry between services that school leaders have never been able to root them out. And privately, the military leadership, which at times prohibits missions, was also jubilant.
Sometimes the thefts are elaborate and dazzlingly executed, along with blackened-faced commando teams and decoys sent to distract the guards. One robbery was so covert that it was not revealed until the cadets posted an ad in the New York Times that said, “Hey Navy, do you know where your“ baby ”is today? The Corps knows.
Others were little more than brawls, including hand-to-hand combat in a stadium parking lot in 2015 that sent Bill 35 to a veterinary clinic for a week.
The effort this weekend was more like a Bay of Pig-style embarrassment. The West Point Raiders scouted a private farm near Annapolis, Maryland, and attempted to sneak up on the paddock where the current goat mascot, a young Angora ram with curly white hair, was grazing with others, including at least one retired Bill.
However, a noisy assault group frightened off the goats, and when the clumsy cadets rushed in pursuit, they managed to grab only one goat – and the wrong one. After a four-hour drive back to West Point, they did not unveil Bill 37, but Bill 35, a 14-year-old retired arthritic man with one horn, according to a joint statement released by the US Army and Navy. answer to questions from The New York Times.
The usual schadenfreude after the raid was drastically muted.
Rumors quickly spread among students, but both service academies tried to hush up the incident. While many military leaders privately admire the ingenuity and determination required to carry a mascot, they dislike the way it looks in public, especially when animals are injured.
In 2018, an endangered gyrfalcon named Aurora was the mascot of the Air Force Academy. When army cadets pushed her into a dog cage, she was bleeding while trying to escape, seriously injuring herself.
Bill 35 was returned safely on Monday, according to the army. According to the serviceman, the veterinarian who examined the goat said it was healthy.
The superintendents of the two academies – Lieutenant General Darryl Williams and Vice Admiral Sean Buck – said in a joint statement Monday night that animal theft is prohibited and that they are investigating the raid.
They said they were “disappointed with the trust that has recently been broken between our brothers and sisters in arms,” and added, “These actions do not reflect the core values of the academy – dignity and respect.”