For big game, just 2 sides to Pentagon Army-Navy: Pep rallies and good-natured partisanship fill the corridors of the nation's military headquarters as the 99th football game between the rival services looms.

December 05, 1998|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A prancing man in an oversized goat head roamed the normally staid halls of the Pentagon yesterday, while an old man in a West Point sweat shirt eyed young Army women. Oh, and an Army general was nearly kicked in the pants.

The Pentagon, headquarters for the military commands, became five-sided pep rally yesterday to kick off celebrations of two nearly century-old milestones: the 99th meeting of Army and Navy on the gridiron, and the 96th birthday of Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Both the football rivalry and the South Carolina Republican, a retired major general who landed at Normandy in an 82nd Airborne glider the night before the D-Day invasion, are going strong.

But Thurmond, wearing an Army cap and a West Point jersey with the number "96," was the star yesterday.

As Army cheerleaders surrounded the senator, one of the young women offered Thurmond a kiss on the cheek, and his eyes lit up. "I may be 96 years old, but I still like young women!" declared Thurmond, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The senator praised all those in uniform, but added: "Tomorrow I'm for the Army!"

Soon after, Maj. Gen. Bob Hicks was all but assaulted by a man wearing a goat costume and oversized sneakers.

There was no cause for alarm: it was only "Bill," the playful Navy mascot, accompanied by the Naval Academy band playing "Anchors Aweigh." For several hours, parts of the Pentagon resembled a playhouse, as the storied rivalry encouraged tightly wound military types to loosen up a little.

"O.K., move on guys," shouted a laughing Maj. Gen. Clair Gill, a 1960s "B" team football player at West Point with Hicks, who predicted a 28-14 Army victory when the teams meet for for their 99th annual competition, at noon today in Philadelphia. "I like the close ones: 20-18," added Gill.

"Bill" -- a 1st Class midshipman from California whose identity is kept secret -- waved a cloven extremity under his nose, as if to brush away an unpleasant odor, and galloped down the hall toward the band.

In celebration of the military's most anticipated gridiron tradition, the Pentagon took on a festive air. Hallways were laced with bunting and balloons. Massive banners hung from the top floors. One read: "Go Navy, Crush Army" and pictured a goat dropping an anchor on an Army mule.

Army and Navy buttons sprouted from crisp uniforms. Old letter sweaters were pulled from attic trunks and stretched over heavier frames. Streamers with the old school colors drooped from back pockets.

When the Naval Academy band and cheerleaders wound their way down stairways and through serpentine hallways, Army Lt. Col. Manzel Bush spotted them and turned a double thumbs down. "Army's going to win," said Bush, as he was jeered by the midshipmen. "We got it!"

Navy Lt. Denise Shorey, who leads this boisterous group of musicians and cheerleaders, was warned by Army officials to stay away from the Army corridor until 10: 25 a.m. -- so the two rival bands wouldn't meet and cause "friction." But as they descended to the second floor, the Academy band members suddenly ran smack into their West Point counterparts in a hallway.

Dueling band fare erupted, producing a musical blend that suggested a busy construction site in the midst of rush hour traffic. Pentagon workers hustled along, some covering their ears. "Bill" exchanged kicks with the Army cheerleaders, a muscle-bound cadet and a woman with long flowing hair, each wearing Zorro-like masks and a large "A" on their shirts.

The rivals finally separated and headed down different hallways, but not before Army cadet and trumpet player Reed Burrgrade ran back and shook hands with Academy drummer Ricardo Hope.

"We were in Boy Scouts together," said Hope, a 1st Class midshipman from Alabama, explaining this rare moment of detente.

Outside the offices of Army Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Academy band continued its musical prodding with "Anchors Aweigh" and the Marine Corps hymn. But "Bill" was out of luck; Shelton was out of the building.

While the outcome of the game is unknown, midshipmen have already scored a victory in reconnaissance and special operations.

Navy staged a raid at the West Point parade ground during a morning send-off rally.

An HH-60 rescue helicopter flown by 1977 academy graduate Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Canders, a member of the 102nd rescue squadron of the New York Air National Guard, swooped low over the 5,000 cadets, football team members and school officials, unleashing 1,977 Nerf balls decorated with the words "Go Navy, Beat Army."

A mission summary shared with The Sun said that "Operation Bomb Army" was completed at 07:40 with a "mission effectiveness of 110 percent."

"The victims were observed trying to throw the Nerf balls back at mission aircraft," according to the summary, "with zero percent effectiveness."

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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