Having graduated from the Naval Academy 44 years ago I have seen a number of Academy traditions live on in the Brigade while others have been consigned to the dustbin of history. One tradition that seems to have gone the way of June Week (we now have Commissioning Week in May) is supporting the other service academies in sporting events when they are not playing Navy. It is a shame midshipmen do not cheer for the other academies because one day their lives actually may depend on a comrade-in-arms from another service.
During a Navy-Tulane home football game a few years back, I was all smiles watching Navy running over an opponent when the scoreboard flashed a score: Army was winning their game 3 to 0. I jumped up, cheering at the thought of another classic Army-Navy battle for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy if the Woops could keep the lead. Then I noticed that very few others were cheering for Army-least of all members of the Brigade. I thought back over the many seasons since graduation I had spent in the upper deck of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and found that I could not recall ever seeing the Brigade cheer for one of the other academies when that school's score appeared on the scoreboard.
When my wife asked why I was cheering for Army, I asked her why we cheer for Navy. "Navy is our team," she replied. Well, the Army and Air Force academies are my teams, too, as I learned only too well on the battlefields of Vietnam and in the concrete jungle of the Pentagon, at least when I was not competing with their graduates. Today's midshipmen do not seem to get it that life as a commissioned officer often involves close interaction with members of the other services. And sometimes your life depends on them.
During my Plebe year, my firsties, the Class of 1959, taught me to cheer for Army except when they played Navy. An unscientific survey of ten of my classmates revealed nine continued to cheer for Army and Air Force unless they were pitted against Navy. A friend in the Class of '64 felt the same and recalled being taught to do that. The same survey of ten current midshipmen and recent graduates disclosed that all but one never cheered for the other service academies, and among those who didn't, some actually wanted to see our future comrades lose.
The camaraderie among all services that I had been taught seems to no longer exist-and I find that disappointing. What happened to the tradition drilled into me so many years ago? Did an over-eager upperclassman take "Beat Army" way too seriously and change it to "Hate Army?" At least, that was the reason a member of '03 gave me when he told me why he never cheered for the Cadets. Indeed, he was encouraged to hate them. Regardless of what caused it, the tradition I was taught has disappeared, and it is time to bring it back. Respect for the other services is more important now then ever. Joint operations are a way of life among today's warriors. Midshipmen will find that when they hit the Fleet and take part in joint operations-or are sentenced to a tour in the Pentagon-interservice cooperation is key to an officer's ability to get something done.
Let nothing I have said be taken to disparage other commissioning sources from such great schools as Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Maryland, and other worthy opponents. These universities continue to produce outstanding officers. However, none of these institutions has a complete student body dedicated from the first day of college to serving our nation in one of the armed forces.
We have witnessed the loss of a fine tradition that I believe should be revived. Midshipmen and grads should be cheering for West Point, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy except when we play them. Joint thinking should begin during Plebe Summer, with a healthy dose of respect for their future comrades. Midshipmen should be taught, as I was, to root for the other academies. If we start building a joint tradition early in the professional lives of our future naval and Marine Corps officers, I am confident that it will pay dividends in the years ahead.
Lieutenant Colonel Madonna leads RCMAmerica LLC, a marketing consulting firm on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He is a member of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 1962 and served for 21 years as a Marine infantry officer.