WASHINGTON — Before kickoff at Saturday’s Army-Navy football game, seven cadets and seven midshipmen will walk to midfield to be traded back to their home academies.
The annual ceremony is part of the Service Academy Exchange Program where students from each of the four service academies are exchanged to spend the fall semester at an academy other than their own.
The program has roots dating back to 1945, when the U.S. Military Academy cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen participated in a weeklong exchange program. The program expanded to a semester long in 1975. Second Class cadets from West Point participate in the exchange but go through a competitive selection process.
Cadet Mitch Walker, who was born in Annapolis, Maryland, said being selected and attending the Naval Academy for a semester has been invaluable.
“It’s extremely important to have a better understanding of our fellow services and their mission sets, tools and capabilities,” he said. “It allows us to hit the ground running quicker in the future in joint operations.”
Cadet Beau Briggs echoed this sentiment. “I’ve been told by many mentors in my life that I’ll be serving in joint operations more than you think,” he said. “I wanted to meet people I’ll likely run into at some point in my career, have those connections, make new friends, experience more culture, learn about other services.”
“It’s becoming more and more important to have programs where the joint forces work together,” said Cadet Ida McLaughlin, from Bethesda, Maryland. “As our focus shifts to peer adversaries, joint operations will become critical to the operational capabilities of our forces. Understanding the capabilities each player has and how they complement each other is crucial to any team. Each branch has a specialized mission, and we have a fighting force that is the most lethal on the planet.”
Some of the cadets felt a call to service and are following a family tradition.
Walker, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had an uncle who served in the Marines in Desert Storm, a grandfather in the Air Force during Vietnam, a great-grandfather in the Army infantry and a great-grandfather in the Army Air Corps in World War II.
“Service has always been a priority of mine and my family” Walker said. “I was raised to respect those who have sacrificed on my behalf so naturally I wanted to fulfill that obligation and calling as well. I want to be on the ground in the fight up front as an infantry officer.”
Briggs, from Charlotte, North Carolina, had a grandfather who served in the Navy.
“Being here at the Naval Academy, I earned a better understanding of his service,” he said. “I decided to join the military because service has always been a big part of my life in whatever capacity that may come in. Service to our nation is the highest form of service there is. The military was always on my mind. I landed on the Army because I liked the mission more than the other branches.”
Walker highly recommends the service academies to anyone considering attending.
“Going to a service academy is an experience that can’t be bought,” he said. “It’s truly a million-dollar education. You can’t match the experiences, the people you’ll meet or the friendships you’ll build anywhere else in the country. Going through life every day with more than 4,000 other people committed to defending the nation and its freedoms motivates me to be a better version of myself every single day.
“I would encourage anyone looking to join the Army or applying to any of the Service Academies to do your research and put the effort in before you go to be successful,” Walker said. “Be prepared to be out of your comfort zone but the sooner you discover the opportunities available to you, the more you’ll get out of your experience.”
“The Army provides a multitude of opportunities for Soldiers,” McLaughlin said. “Be aware of the programs in place to support you and take advantage of them. Broaden your horizons. Seek out opportunities to experience new things and learn from experts in fields that are different from yours.”
She plays Division-1A Rugby for West Point, studies mechanical engineering and hopes to commission as an aviation officer.
Prior to the start of the Army-Navy game, the cadets will be exchanged at midfield and allowed to cheer on their teams from friendly areas in the West Point seating areas.
“It’s Army-Navy week so tensions are high right now. Everyone’s very skeptical of everyone else,” Briggs said. “I’m looking over my shoulder constantly. I can’t wait to go out to that midfield line, do our exchange and run back to my student section. Go Army, beat Navy.”
“I’m absolutely excited to rejoin my classmates,” McLaughlin said. “The anticipation for this game has been building throughout this semester, and the exchange will be the culminating event for us. With the rivalry, we’re much more similar than different and united in our willingness to place duty, honor and country first.”
“Although the Army-Navy rivalry is strong and apparent in the attitudes of both academies and their sports teams, at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team,” Walker said. “We’re best friends and partners 364 days out of the year until one Saturday afternoon in December as we watch our teams duke it out on the gridiron.
“I’m super excited to see my company and cheer the Army team to victory,” Walker said. “Go Army, beat Navy!”