Tired Army prank can't rival great Navy heist

The Baltimore Sun

In the early morning hours on Nov. 17, a band of cadets from the U.S. Military Academy sneaked onto an 875-acre organic dairy farm, located about 15 miles outside Annapolis, and stole three goats. They raced back to West Point, N.Y., slapped together some photos and created a YouTube video that detailed "Operation Good Shepherd" -- the theft of the Naval Academy's unguarded and defenseless mascots.


This still passes as a legitimate prank in this rivalry? C'mon, cadets. Log off the computers and crack open a dusty copy of the Army-Navy Prankster History Book.

"When I was there, every year it seemed Army would come in and take the goat," said Lt. Cmdr. David Rudko, Naval Academy class of 1992. "You basically drive to the farm and cut a lock. It's pretty easy to do.

"But no one had ever gone up there and taken the mules before."

In fact, as far as historians can tell, just once in the storied 117-year history of Army-Navy have the midshipmen ever infiltrated the U.S. Military Academy campus and successfully mule-napped the Army mascot. It was a plan that started with a wild hair in plebe year from Rudko and his roommate, Chris Middleton, and ended four years later after plenty of elaborate scheming, careful surveillance and an ornate car chase that started in New York and ended at Gate 8 of the academy campus.

The plan was hatched by the class of 1991 and passed along to the next year's seniors. A group of 17 midshipmen spent the better part of fall semester refining the mission. They made several reconnaissance missions to New York, posing as tourists to map out the area, snapping photos and shooting video. One of the mids was an electrical engineering major, and he visited West Point to study the alarm systems.

Stealing mules isn't easy. Unlike the Navy's goats, the Army's mules are housed on school grounds in a veterinary compound with guards stationed at the gate and the barn. An initial raid attempt failed when the midshipmen showed up the day after Thanksgiving and found that feeding times had been changed. The group resigned itself that another class would have to execute the plan. But as Army-Navy week approached, the excitement got the best of them, and they just had to give it another shot.

"Looking back, I don't think any of us thought it would really work," says Rudko, who is now based in Virginia with the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. "It was so involved and the security there was so tight."

The midshipmen dressed as soldiers and military police, entering school grounds in cars bearing New York plates and bumper stickers that read "Beat Navy!" They distracted a staff sergeant, told him they were delivering feed for the mules and quickly subdued the remaining guards. Using molasses-sweetened feed to gain the mules' trust, the mascots were easily loaded into a horse trailer. As the raiders left, one of the imprisoned guards broke free, and word quickly spread that thieves were fleeing with mules in tow.

There was a brief high-speed chase at the gate, but guards relented after securing the midshipmen's tag numbers. Helicopters began searching from above, and state police were alerted on the ground. Authorities were stationed at toll booths along the New Jersey Turnpike, and others waited at the Naval Academy's gates. But the midshipmen broke into two camps, and those with the mules took a secret path back to Maryland, heading north to Albany, N.Y., before turning south and cutting through Pennsylvania.

After a snack break at nearby farm, night had fallen by the time the mules reached the Naval Academy. Inside the gates, the pep rally was about to begin, but outside, federal marshals and Defense Department police sprang from the darkness and temporarily foiled the heist. Quickly, word reached Lt. Angela Smith, the command duty officer, who informed the agents that they were on Navy property and she was in charge. She ordered the mules be escorted immediately to the pep rally.

"It still boggles my mind that we were able to pull it off," Rudko says.

Two days later, a Navy team with an embarrassing 0-10 record hanging around its neck demolished Army, 24-3, in the 92nd edition of Army-Navy.

Though there has been a Memorandum of Agreement prohibiting mascot-napping ever since, that didn't stop cadets from stealing Navy's goats this year.

You're forgiven if you're not giggling as you continually refresh your Web browser. No doubt Army's thievery is perfect for YouTube. But when the midshipmen get in the prank game, it's a big-budget action-adventure that has fans' behinds on the edges of their seats and Army's asses in the back of a trailer.


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