Steeped In Tradition

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Detailing all of West Point’s traditions could be a website all in itself given that the Academy’s history spans more than two centuries. Here are some highlights of this historic place, steeped in tradition.

ARMY-NAVY SERIES

General Dwight D. Eisenhower 1915 once said,

“The Army and the Navy are the best of friends in the world 364 ½ days a year, but on one Saturday afternoon, we’re the worst of enemies.”

Although Army-Navy football holds a great deal of weight and build-up, there are 24 other stars on the line. The Army-Navy series amongst all sports is arguably the greatest rivalry in sports.

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Spirit Missions

Sometimes called shenanigans or pranks, these missions are designed to promote esprit de corps. They also stoke the friendly fires of competition between the academies during Army-Navy week. Everyone has heard a version of the “kidnap Billy the Goat” story, but there’s also the time when cadets scaled the walls of Bancroft Hall in Annapolis and poured flour on the middies below, the painting of “SINK NAVY” on the submarine in front of Ricketts Hall in 1995, and 2012’s cyber prank during which someone posting as Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller hacked the Annapolis email system and sent a mass email poking fun at Navy (including their apparent weaknesses in cyber security).

On Brave Old Army Team

Dating back to 1910 when a member of the cheerleading squad approached Bandmaster Lt. Philip Egner, a collaborative effort began to produce a new cheer that grew into a verse better suited for music. Egner eventually hummed the perfect melody for the song while walking to his quarters and immediately wrote the first notes of the song on the cuff of his shirt so he wouldn’t forget it. A historic staple between athletics and music at West Point ever since, “On Brave Old Army Team” unites the Corps and fans alike as the Academy’s fight song.

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COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF’S TROPHY

The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is awarded to each season’s winner of the triangular college football series among the United States Military Academy (Army Black Knights), the United States Naval Academy (Navy Midshipmen), and United States Air Force Academy (Air Force Falcons). The Navy–Air Force game is traditionally played on the first Saturday in October, the Army–Air Force game on the first Saturday in November, and the Army–Navy Game on the first Saturday in December. In the event of a tie, the award is shared, but the previous winner retains possession of the trophy.

First awarded in 1972, when Richard M. Nixon was Commander-in-Chief. The Commander-in-Chief’s trophy was the idea of Air Force General George B. Simler, the commander of Air Training Command and former Air Force Academy athletic director who felt the need for such a trophy as a means to ensure the Air Force games played against traditional rivals Army and Navy were given some meaning at least slightly more significant than all other normal collegiate opponents that those two storied programs were to play on any given Saturday. The trophy itself is jointly sponsored by the alumni associations of the three academies.

The design of the trophy consists of three silver footballs in a pyramid like arrangement, set on a circular base, with three arc-shaped sections cut out — one for each academy.

The Mules

The choice of the mule as a mascot reflects the long-standing usefulness of this animal in military operations – hauling guns, supplies and ammunition. Strong, hearty and persevering, the mule is an appropriate symbol for the Corps of Cadets. A tradition dating back to 1899, Ranger III and Stryker currently serve as the live mascots for the Corps of Cadets.

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Class Ring

Cadets at West Point were the first American students to wear class rings. The tradition started in 1835, and except for 1836 (no ring adopted) and 1879 (class cuff-links) class rings have been a fixture at the Academy. Even subtraditions have developed involving the class ring: In 1917, it became customary to design the ring with the Academy crest on one side and the class crest on the other.

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Parades

The entire Corps of Cadets marches in five full-dress gray parades per year: Homecoming, the Thayer Award, the Alumni Review, the Superintendent’s Award and the Graduation Parade.

The Class Goat

On graduation day, as cadets receive their diplomas by company and regiment in alphabetical order, one will get a resounding round of applause. At this point, the ceremony halts briefly and the Dean poses for a photo with a cadet before handing over a container holding about $1,000 (a tradition of collecting a dollar from each classmate started in the late 1960s). This is the Class Goat – the last person in the graduating class in order of merit.

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