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Black Knights, Midshipmen Drum Up Support Before Army-Navy Game

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2007 – Army and Navy drummers, buglers and cheerleaders stormed the halls of the Pentagon over the past two days, rallying or roiling soldiers and sailors in their wake before tomorrow’s Army-Navy football game.

The Navy Midshipmen, who enter the game with a 7-4 record, will try for their fifth consecutive win against the 3-8 Army Black Knights in the 108th year the teams face off on the gridiron. Despite being 14-point underdogs, the indomitable Black Knights, on hand at the Pentagon today, are poised to soldier on at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore tomorrow.

Lifting a yellow and black megaphone to his mouth, Army Secretary Pete Geren faced the crowd of Black Knight supporters and yelled, “GO ARMY!”

Geren led the throng to the office Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who thanked the group for visiting him. He encouraged the vociferous crowd to make extra noise while passing by the office the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, his Navy counterpart.

Upon meeting Casey, Army Cadet Cpl. Jacob Frechette, a trumpeter in the band, made a deferential request of the chief of staff. Frechette asked Casey to order him to do push-ups while his fellow soldier took a picture.

“Nobody outranks him, so if somebody’s going to make you do push-ups, it might as well be the highest-ranking guy in the Army,” the cadet said.

But Frechette, who predicted an Army victory in the gridiron showdown, said the only reason the Army might do push-ups tomorrow would be to express celebration. “When we score a touchdown, we’ll be out there pushing,” he said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates gave a somewhat ambiguous message to the crowd after he accepted an Army scarf from a soldier who donned a “Goatbusters” costume, a flippant reference to the Navy ram mascot.

“May the best team win,” Gates said in tongue-in-cheek fashion. “How’s that for diplomacy?”

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard A. Cody had an unequivocal statement for the cheerleaders and band after they performed a choreographed medley that included the Army fight song. “I thought that was one of our best military operations to date!” he shouted.

“It’s going to be a very tight game until the fourth quarter,” Cody predicted to American Forces Press Service. “Then Army’s going to win by seven.”

Army Cadet Sgt. Wiley Grant, a trombonist in the band, said he’s looking forward to seeing the first Army victory against Navy in his three years at U.S. Military Academy, at West Point, N.Y. Pep rallies like today’s are the best way to get the hearts and minds of the fans -- known as the 12th man on a football team comprising 11 players -- prepared for the historic matchup, he added.

“Especially after five losses that we’ve had in the past, it’s really important to get people fired up and to get people into the spirit and get them to believe,” he said. “The players on the field are going to do their best, but without the crowd support, the support from the fans, and support from the Army at-large, we’re not going to be able to win.”

Grant said the Army-Navy game is one of the oldest football traditions in history, one that inculcates a sense of teamwork across military branches. “To borrow General (Douglas) MacArthur’s quote, ‘Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other fields will bear the fruits of victory,’” he said. “There’s no more evident example of that than the Army-Navy game.”

Following in another rich tradition -- the tradition of one-upmanship -- Cadet Brian Kossler led several fellow cadets up escalators toward the Pentagon’s fifth floor, where a banner hung that read, “GO NAVY! BEAT ARMY” Kossler ascended a ladder and worked at unfastening the bolt that held the banner in place.

Minutes later, the 40-foot plastic homage to the Midshipmen lay in a heap on the fifth floor. A sailor who witnessed the act chided, “You can take our banner, but you’re still going to lose tomorrow!”

But those who say Army doesn’t have a prayer in tomorrow’s game are wrong, at least according to the Army’s chief of chaplains. “I pray that God shows favor on the Army,” said Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver. “And my biggest prayer is that everybody be safe as they play.”

Yesterday, the Midshipmen’s esprit de corps was boosted by some of the Defense Department’s top officials.

“I know it’s a great week, the spirit’s great, and it’s a spectacularly important game,” said Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We want it to be played hard and played well, and in the end, let the best team win.

“And we have no doubt that’s Navy!” Mullen, a 1968 graduate of the Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md., shouted as the throng of Navy supporters gathered outside his office erupted in cheers.

Mullen told the crowd that in the spirit of “jointness” among military branches, he would sit on Army’s side for the game’s first half. “And then I’ll be on the Navy side to see the victory,” he said. “Just remember two words: Beat Army!”

“Anchors Aweigh,” the Navy fight song, bounced around the stairwell near the Pentagon’s Mall Entrance as the parade ascended to the second floor toward offices housing members of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“On Saturday, I will be neutral, but with some bias,” said Gordon England, former Navy secretary and current deputy secretary of defense. “I hope it is a great game, and that’s what we all want -- a great game between our two great service academies.”

Donald C. Winter, secretary of the Navy, excited the crowd by listing significant Navy victories this season against the Air Force and Notre Dame. Amid the ruckus he added, “The season starts again on Saturday!”

“And one other thing,” he said. “All the good words I said last week in theater about being part of the joint fight and the joint team -- on Saturday, those words are held in abeyance!”

Roughead, chief of naval operations and a 1973 Naval Academy graduate, thanked the Midshipmen musicians and cheerleaders for visiting his office. “You guys are getting spoiled; you never lose!” he said. “We’ll see you there on Saturday; it’s going to be a great day, and we’re going to win!”

After interrupting staff meetings and conference calls in the Army Department corridor, the procession passed before a Pentagon display honoring Navy fleet admirals and sailors who went on to serve as president. Tubas blared before resolute photos of Chester Nimitz and William Halsey, and bass drums banged off near stately portraits of Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy.

Navy Lt. Elizabeth Griffiths, the secretary of the Navy’s protocol officer and a 2001 Naval Academy graduate, helped organize the rally, which is highly anticipated by Pentagon staffers, she said.

“I think this really gets people excited for the game, motivated for the game, and they just bring that much more spirit to the stadium, which really can help the players,” she said. “I think that the best part about this game is how fierce the rivalry is, but when it comes down to it, everybody’s playing on the same team.

“People enjoy the game so much because the teams are bonded for reasons that go way beyond just football,” she said.

The CBS telecast of the game begins at noon EST tomorrow.

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