Here’s Looking at You, Kid! Army Cadets KID-nap Wrong Goat

If you’ve seen one goat, you’ve seen them all, right? They’re furry creatures who’ll eat about anything. An adult male, a billy, has horns and a goatee and their young are called kids. Nevertheless, goats are not interchangeable. A group of Army cadets recently learned this lesson the hard way through a clandestine operation to KID-nap Navy’s mascot prior to the upcoming traditional Army-Navy football game. Oops! Mission fail as the wrong goat was taken.

So, wait. Navy’s mascot is a GOAT? What on earth (or the sea perhaps) does a goat have to do with naval operations? Well, historically, apparently it was a lot.

Prior to the availability of refrigeration, goats were fixtures on Navy ships serving a variety of functions. They provided a source for fresh dairy products and meat. Since goats will eat pretty much whatever is placed in front of them, the animals also equated to living garbage disposals. Goats take up much less room than cows and are more sure-footed (think rolling seas). And should the worst occur, i.e., goat overboard, they can swim. Goats can still be found on Navy ships today, but their purpose has changed; they are viewed as pets and morale boosters. I’m sure the goats’ morale is boosted knowing that they are no longer seen as a convenient food source.

A live goat first appeared as the Navy mascot way back in 1893 at the fourth ever Army-Navy football game. El Cid, the pet aboard the cruiser New York, bleated on the sidelines to urge the midshipmen on to a 6-3 victory. The win was chalked up to the presence of a goat (as opposed to the great coaching of and playing by the Navy team–sorry, guys!), so the tradition of having a live goat mascot appear at the game was born.

With a permanent mascot in place, a name change was in order. Goodbye, El Cid; hello, Bill–likely Billy to his Navy chums. Most of the over thirty Navy goat mascots since El Cid have been dubbed Bill with a Roman Numeral designation following.

But boys will be boys, and Bill (whatever the number designation happened to be) became the target of “spirit missions” by the rival Army cadets. Those sneaky cadets have stolen Bill at least ten times, producing him at the storied football game between the service academies in an attempt to shame their military opponents on the gridiron.

Over the years, things began to get out of hand. One spirit mission involved the cutting of telephone lines and the typing up of Navy employees to facilitate the goat-napping. Boys! Boys! So the problem was resolved in the early ’90’s in a non-military manner–no weapons, blood, or fighting were involved. Officials from both academies civilly signed a memo of agreement banning the kidnapping of mascots. And while they were at it, they forbid the kidnapping of cadets and midshipmen too.

But a memo is simply a piece of paper with words written on it, right? Despite being told, “No, no!,” the Army cadets decided to conduct a spirit mission this year to prepare for the Army-Navy game set for December 11th. The weekend before Thanksgiving, a group of Army cadets drove four hours to a private farm in Annapolis to carry out their goatnapping operation.

Alas, the mission didn’t turn out as intended. The cadets forget to use their library voices, and the noise they made startled the goats. Yes, goats plural. Not only the current Navy mascot resides at the farm, but Bill has predecessor Bills and a Bill understudy living there with him. The spooked goats started running with the cadets running after them. (Doesn’t this sound like a great children’s book?) In the confusion, only one goat could be grabbed and–you guessed it–it wasn’t the current Bill, Bill XXXVII.

Can you blame the cadets for this error? I mean, they did get a curly-haired Angora goat, it was male, and it was living at the farm for the Navy mascot. HOWEVER, the nabbed goat was an old, arthritic, one-horned Bill who’s been retired since 2015, Bill XXXIV. Hmm. Would reasonable minds conclude the Navy midshipmen revered this goat at their current mascot? (I’m betting no.) But the cadets couldn’t come home empty-handed, could they?

To the embarrassment of Navy, the story leaked to the public. The New York Times reported the botched mission describing it as a “Bay of Pigs-style embarrassment.” Yikes! The (wrong) goat was returned safely and received a clean bill of health after being checked out by a vet. He also now has some great stories to share about Army with his buddies at the goat farm.

In Army’s defense, what do they know about goats? Their mascot, which debuted in 1899, is a mule. Why a mule? Such animals had been used for generations as moving machines, i.e., hauling Army gear. A select few mules serve as mascots for West Point and who are trained by select cadets. Just a thought, but Army may want to form a second training group at the U.S.M.A. to teach the cadets what the Navy mascot looks like.

It should be great fun to watch the Army-Navy game this year. I can just imagine the signs which the Navy fans might be waving for the cameras. “Did getting Bill XXXIV get Army’s goat?” “Army caught napping in goatnapping.” “All goats are not created equal.” “That’s our mascot on the field. The one with TWO horns.” “We always get our mule.”

And who will I be rooting for come December 11th? As an Air Force “dependent” for decades, I don’t have a goat or even a mule in this game. I simply like watching football, enjoy a rivalry, and (per past history) can’t resist a man in uniform (there’ll be a few thousand in attendance.) And I’m expecting everyone to keep their hands to themselves–no mascot mischief, please! (We’ll be looking at you cadets….)

WONDER-ing Woman:

Is mascot stealing simply good fun or a crime? Who are you rooting for in the Army-Navy game? Why? Are you surprised at the choice of mascots for these service academies?

Don’t Sink Our Battleships!–China Threatens U.S. Naval Presence

Enter at your own risk, China has declared to the ships of other countries seeking passage in the South China Sea. And enter the U.S. did on Monday with the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold navigating in waters around the Paracel Islands. China claims its military chased away the American warship. Uncle Sam retorted, “No, you didn’t.” Well, better volleys of “Yes, we did” and “No you didn’t” than volleys of ammunition.

What’s all the fuss about who gets to sail their ship where? The key part of that question is the “where.” That “where” is the South China Sea. Sure, we’ve all heard about the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but the South China Sea wasn’t at the top of the list of water bodies discussed in any geography class I ever took. In fact, I can’t recall it ever even being mentioned.

To refresh your recollection (or perhaps clue you in), the South China Sea is located in the Western Pacific Ocean and covers approximately 1,400,000 square miles. To put this number in perspective, the sea is larger than the area of India. It is bounded on the north by China–hence the name South China Sea. Other countries bordering the sea include Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Brunei.

The South China Sea is area of immense economic, strategic, and ecological importance. One-third of the world’s maritime shipping passes through it; in fact, it is the second most used sea lane globally. Approximately $3 trillion (that’s trillion with a “T”) in goods are shipped this way each year, and it is a significant trade route for crude oil from the Persian Gulf and Africa. This sea also boasts lucrative fisheries, and huge oil and gas reserves are believed to be underneath its seabed. Additionally, the water body is is estimated to hold one-third of the world’s marine biodiversity.

Who wouldn’t want to control a major trade route rich with natural resources? Unsurprisingly, several countries have made competing territorial claims to the South China Sea. (“It’s mine!” “No, it’s mine!”) Both Taiwan and China claim almost the entire sea as their own with China using a demarcation line, the nine-dash line, assigning it approximately 90% of the disputed waterway. Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Philippines take issue with China’s claim saying it contravenes their right to sovereignty and maritime rights as set forth in the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”). Disputes among the countries bordering the South China Sea are regarded as Asia’s most potentially dangerous point of conflict.

To bolster its claim of ownership of much of the South China Sea, China began building military bases on island chains and reefs in this waterbody. Its claim and its military installations threaten offshore resources and pose a security threat to other nations bordering that waterway. But because the sea comprises much of China’s southern border, it has been a doorway for invasion of China in the past and raises security concerns for that country.

China is specifically uneasy about the presence of American forces in the South China Sea area. This concern is well founded as the U.S. has five major military bases in the Philippines and forty bases in Japan and South Korea. America’s largest naval force, the 7th Fleet, is based in Japan, and it operates in the South China Sea on a daily basis. We’d be nervous if the Chinese Navy was hovering around Hawaii, so you can see why China is on edge with the 7th Fleet hanging out on its southern border.

China’s solution has been to make excessive maritime claims to keep other countries from sailing in its backyard. It requires that it be given advance notification or that it provide approval before foreign military vessels may pass through the sea. China has even threatened Philippine aircraft and vessels in the South China Sea area. While talk is cheap, the danger is real. The United States has a 70 year old mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, so if China makes good on its threat, the Philippines could invoke the requirement that the U.S. come to its aid militarily.

International recognition of China’s expansive maritime claims does not exist. Instead, those claims were specifically rejected by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague on July 12, 2016 in the case of Philippines v. China. The decision found China had no legal or historic claim to the South China Sea as the country has asserted. China’s view of this ruling? It was a “waste of paper.” The Trump Administration likewise rejected nearly all of China’s significant maritime claims. And, are you sitting down? The Biden Administration agrees with the prior administration’s rejection of such claims. (Are pigs flying somewhere?)

Fast forward to Monday. The USS Benfold entered the waters of the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands without receiving China’s permission to do so. (Imagine tense music playing.) The Chinese ordered them to scram. The U.S. Navy responded that it had consistently sailed unhindered in these waters and that it would continue to do so. Its presence in the South China Sea was characterized as a “freedom of navigation” operation. Of course, it was purely coincidental (wink, wink) the USS Benfold undertook this operation on the fifth anniversary of the denial of Chinese claims by the international court.

Scrapping over who controls what part of the South China Sea is not simply going to go away. That region depends heavily on ship transportation since the transportation infrastructure of the countries adjoining this sea are underdeveloped. Other areas of the world will also be affected by the resolution of the territorial seas issue since the South China Sea is a primary global trade route.

One way this simmering problem will NOT be resolved is by China playing “Battleship” (remember that fun board game?) with other countries whose military vessels ply the South China Sea. Diplomats are much better suited to resolving thorny problems without anyone getting killed than the military. At least we know diplomats won’t arrive at the negotiating table on a boat with lethal firepower. Let’s get the military off the front line of dealing with the issue of whose territory the South China Sea is and let cooler and less volatile heads resting on diplomatic shoulders try to work things out.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you blame the Chinese for being edgy with military ships of an unfriendly superpower sailing off their southern border on a regular basis? Are the Chinese being unreasonable for claiming such a vast portion of the South China Sea? Before you read this post, were you even aware this waterway was so important and such a point of conflict?

Base Goings On At The Naval Base

As a resident of a small Florida Panhandle town, I find horrible things usually happen elsewhere. Our neighboring town is Niceville (yes, really!), so how could the unspeakable happen in our neck of the woods? Well, it can and it did last Friday when an active shooter event at NAS Pensacola brought terror, death, and insecurity to our beautiful area here on the Gulf of Mexico. What happened and what’s the takeaway?

WHAT HAPPENED? It was a day like all days. Thousands of military members and civilians were streaming to work at NAS Pensacola, a base which employs 16,000+ military and 7,400 civilians. Being Friday, many were probably contemplating their weekend plans. Concern about a pending terrorist attack was a remote worry–if one at all. But, apparently, it should have been.

Shortly before 7:00 a.m. a report was received about an active shooter on the base. Response was swift; Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene in mere moments where shooting was underway in a classroom building. The pop of gunfire was certainly more alarming to the students than a pop quiz. Sadly, the shooter was one of them, and he killed three of his fellow students.

The students who died were all young (23, 21, and 19) active duty members of the U.S. Navy. It is unknown how they were doing in their military studies, but they aced real life heroism. The three ran TOWARD (not away from) the shooter. One of these students, although wounded extensively, got away and made contact with first responders; he provided a description of the shooter before succumbing to his injuries. It was helpful for the deputies to know more than the shooter was the lunatic firing a gun.

Law enforcement officers exchanged gunfire with the shooter who shot and wounded two deputies. One deputy managed to shoot and kill the shooter. At 7:50 a.m., the shooter was confirmed dead. The incident was over, but the questions about it were just beginning.

As the smoke from the gunfire cleared, authorities determined the shooter had killed three sailors, wounded eight people, and blown up the sense of safety and security in the Pensacola area. The Navy base was closed all day Friday and remained on lockdown through Sunday. Area residents and authorities were concerned because it was uncertain whether the shooter had been acting alone.

As if a shooting incident wasn’t bad enough, the community then learned the identity of the shooter. He was a 21 year old Saudi Air Force 2nd lieutenant, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who had been in the U.S. for military training since 2017. The FBI has confirmed, to no one’s surprise, it is operating on the assumption the shooting was an act of terrorism.

Authorities believe a social medial post critical of U.S. support for Israel and claiming the U.S. is anti-Islamic was made by the shooter. Moreover, they learned the shooter had hosted a dinner party earlier in the week attended by three other students; in addition to eating, attendees viewed videos of mass shootings. Nevertheless, the Saudi Air Force officer, who was vetted in order to study here in the U.S., was flying under the radar as far as the authorities were concerned.

Of small consolation is the fact that the shooter legally purchased the gun he used to carry out his rampage. Whew! We wouldn’t want guns illegally in the hands of possible terrorists. The shooter wielded a Glock 45 9 mm gun which he bought legally in the Sunshine State. Typically foreigners cannot buy weapons here, but where there’s an evil will, there’s a way. The shooter found a legal loophole which allowed him to buy the gun. He purchased a hunting license by establishing state residency which then allowed him to buy a gun for hunting. Did no one think to ask him WHAT he planned to hunt? “Two legs or four, sir?”

In the immediate aftermath of the violence were reports that not all Saudis from NAS Pensacola were accounted for. Hello? Who’s minding the military store?  How do you lose foreign military members? Later reports stated all Saudis had been accounted for and that they had never not been accounted for. Of course, these reports came from authorities who were clueless there was a gun-toting foreigner bashing America on social media among us before the incident, so let’s take what they have to say with a grain of salt. Moreover, let’s hope they are keeping an American eagle eye trained on the Saudi student who was filming the violence as it was ongoing.

WHAT’S THE TAKEAWAY?

Now that we know what happened at NAS Pensacola last Friday, what should we learn from it?

  1. There’s a potential for violence ANYWHERE. This incident occurred on a military base with restricted access; firearms are not authorized except for security forces. Armed guards are on site, and security is a paramount concern. If you can’t be safe there, where can you be safe? The answer is, of course, you can’t. You needn’t live in constant fear, but you should be cognizant of your surroundings.
  2. If you see something, say something. If anyone had bothered to report the shooter was watching videos of mass shootings or that someone had posted anti-American rhetoric on social media, perhaps last Friday’s shooting would never have happened. You can’t sit idly by. Bad things can and likely will happen if no one speaks up about something suspicious.
  3. We are the world. It is not simply Americans living in the U.S. The shooter was only one of about 200 foreign nationals receiving training at NAS Pensacola. In fact, there are over 5,000 foreign nationals from 153 countries who are undergoing military training in the U.S.; of this number, 852 are from Saudi Arabia. (Perhaps this figure should be reduced by one now with the death of the shooter.) People with different allegiances and ideologies are in our communities. That doesn’t necessarily mean someone from a foreign country is ipso facto a threat, it simply means that the world is right here among us.

My heart is heavy our beautiful Emerald Coast has been touched by hatred and violence. Last Friday was a day like all days filled with both good and bad. The bad was very bad–the senseless loss of young lives. The good was very good–those who rose to the occasion and acted as heroes at the cost of their own lives. Today is a new day, and it likewise will be filled with bad and good. Let’s do our part to contribute good to it.

Just WONDER-ing:  

If you live in the Florida Panhandle, has this violence impacted your sense of safety and security? What, if anything, could have been done to prevent this tragedy? What strikes you more–the selflessness of the three sailors who died taking on the shooter or the hatred of the shooter driving him to go on a shooting rampage?