By Brandon O'Connor, Pointer View Assistant EditorDecember 3, 2018
West Point, N.Y. -- Black and gold with a pop of red, the Army West Point football team's uniform for the 119th Army-Navy game is steeped in history. From the black lions on the sleeves to the red one on the crown of the helmet and the World War I era flag on the back of the helmet, each element pays tribute to the fighting Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division.
The 1st Infantry Division was chosen as the represented division for this year's game due to their role as the first division to be sent to France during World War I, which ended 100 years ago this November.
From the process of selecting the division to designing the actual uniforms, Nike works with instructors in the West Point Department of History. The instructors help to make sure every element of the jersey and the other merchandise that is sold is historically accurate from the colors to the patches.
This work includes looking through historical documents to see if references are made the exact colors and threads used in the uniforms and also working to make sure everything being used and represented is validated and backed-up historically.
"The designer at Nike will come back to us and say, 'I have an idea. Here is a look we can have for the game jersey or things they might want to sell in retail. Is this correct? Would they have worn this at the time?'" Lt. Col. Channing Greene, an instructor in the Department of History, said. "The folks at Nike don't always know what a division means or a regiment or battalion. Helping them clarify those things when they start to make a story of the uniform and produce things that surround the story, you are helping them through those tidbits."
This year's uniform mark the third year in a row where they were designed to honor a specific division within the Army. Two years ago, the uniform honored the 82nd Airborne Division and last year, the 10th Mountain Division was honored. Capt. James Villanueva, an assistant professor in the Department of History, said they chose to highlight the 1st Infantry Division this year because of the World War I ties as well as the desire to honor a mechanized or armor division after highlighting light infantry units the past two years.
The process of selecting the division starts multiple years in advance to give Nike time to design the uniforms and craft the story around them. The next two divisions to be honored have already been selected and work has started on the designs, but even the division itself is kept in the dark about their role until a few weeks before the game.
"I think it is exciting and something we are very honored to be a part of because of the legacy of the division and how it has nested with the history of the Army. To be a part of the Army/Navy game is just fantastic," Maj. Gen. John S. Kolasheski, Commanding General, 1st Infantry Division, said. "This opportunity for the division to be a part of the Army/Navy game and all the honors that come with it is really a significant event for us. It honors those who have fought and served with this division and will do so in the future. It also gives us an opportunity to talk about the division."
Elements throughout the uniform will honor the division starting with the team's black helmets for which will feature the division's Big Red 1 on the crown. The design is a reference to the 1st Infantry Division Soldiers who painted their helmets with their insignia on the way home from France.
Throughout the war, the division's patches were mismatched after being hastily sown on while in France, Greene said, but in the years following their return the images on their helmets featuring the red one became iconic.
The black lions on the sleeves honor the 1st Infantry Division's 28th Infantry unit, which became known as the Black Lions of Cantigny after leading American forces to their first victory of World War 1 at the Battle of Cantigny. The 28th Infantry will also be one of the units represented on the collars of the jerseys.
"It is a matter of working with ODIA and Nike to start collecting things that are iconic of that time that would have been representative of a uniform, what a common Soldier would have worn, something that the unit would be representative of such as mascots or icons and you just start collecting photographs and things from that period," Greene said of the design process. "To take a uniform for a historical period and make it into a modern looking football jersey with the elements that are on there historically and you would recognize it, we call the gal we work with at Nike pretty much a genius."
When the Army team takes the field against Navy Saturday with the goal of winning their third straight game over the Midshipmen and claiming the Commander-in-Chief's trophy outright, they will look to embody the spirit of the 1st Infantry Division, whose Soldiers have fought in both world wars along with Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
"A hundred years ago, the 1st Infantry Division led the Allies to victory in World War I and then on Saturday, Dec. 8, 1st Infantry Division Soldiers and families will be able to cheer on the Army team to achieve victory in this historic rivalry," Kolasheski said. "Here in the division, our motto is no mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great, but duty first. We believe that the Army team's mission on Dec. 8 is to beat Navy. I know that the Army team will demonstrate the same readiness and devotion to duty as our Fighting First Division."