West Point vs. Annapolis
Every year, one of the biggest spectacles in NCAA sports is the traditional Army vs. Navy game. The two most prominent military academies in America, West Point and Annapolis, compete not only to uphold the honor of their school but also their branch of service. Army cadets and veterans alike scream “Go Army,” while midshipmen and sailors reply with “Go Navy.” People in the crowd and around the country show their support for either team through the things they wear, the banners they hold high and even the challenge coins they carry.
Custom military academy challenge coins like these are a celebration of each institution’s heritage, character and culture. The polished plating, careful attention to detail and top-notch quality come together to perfectly recreate the logos, motos and colors of each academy. In a way, these two challenge coins are a physical symbol of the longstanding rivalry between these two academies.
But this traditional clash between cadets and midshipmen only scratches the surface of a deep seeded, interservice rivalry between, not only the Army and Navy but the Air Force as well. Outside of academy life, they all compete fiercely for military roles, missions and budgetary shares, and the results of this infighting have sometimes been nasty. So, if they are all on the same side, why is this happening? Is the West Point v Annapolis competition just another example of how our nation’s military is working against itself?
To better understand the relationships between each branch of military service, it helps to look back at how certain interservice rivalries have played out in the past. Once you understand how it happens and where it comes from, it becomes easy to see how something as small as a West Point or Annapolis challenge coin can represent both competition and camaraderie.
Interservice Rivalry in the Post WWII Era
When it comes to controversy and conflict between the major service branches, the hottest topic is usually money. Budgetary concerns bleed into everything. If the Army loses their responsibilities in air power, for example, they lose control over certain military operations and lose money. To them, it feels like their equipment, their people and their budget is being taken away. This is the sort of thing that happened in the years following victory in Europe and the Pacific.
In 1947, once the Air Force had officially become an independent branch of the military, the Army lost their fixed-wing combat aircraft as well as other responsibilities. In an effort to rebalance the scales, the Army sought for complete control and responsibility of the United States’ ground forces by eradicating the Navy’s Marine Corps.
Obviously, they were unsuccessful. But at this point, the Navy was feeling pressure from both the Army and the newly formed Air Force. Up until this period, Naval Aviation had been in charge of the delivery of nuclear and conventional bombs and warheads and the Navy wanted to retain control of strategic bombing missions for the United States. A new supercarrier capable of strategic bombing was commissioned, and construction got as far as the ships keel being laid in the dry dock before the entire project was canceled. The supercarrier, the USS United States, was never finished, and the budget and responsibilities of strategic bombing were handed over to the Air Force.
This controversy resulted in the famous “Revolt of the Admirals” which saw multiple high ranking Navy officials resigning and publicly opposing the decision. As the Air Force fought to find its footing as a major military power in the United States, the entire military felt the repercussions of the changes. While the Army, Navy and Air Force were fighting with each other for control of different aspects in air power, land power and sea power, they also had to contend with massive budget cuts across the entire military. The fact was that the United States Military needed to transition from a fully funded and fully staffed wartime machine to a much leaner peacetime defensive force.
As an interesting note, it was just after this period that challenge coins really started to gain popularity throughout the military. They had been around since as early as WWI, but steadily grew in popularity until they reached their current status. But considering this type of history between the major branches of service, do challenge coins like this represent something closer to self-promoting or interservice cooperation?
What to Expect Going Forward
Interservice rivalry looks similar today as it did in the years following WWII, but we should consider that competition within the military is not such a bad thing. While deeply seeded rivalries may lead to (sometimes) fierce infighting, competition is something that breeds excellence. Today, the Air Force, Army and Navy have a balance of power and responsibility between them, and none are restricted to just the sea, land or air. The way that they compete for funding, for military responsibility and for missions is through innovation and excellence in service.
But is interservice rivalry taught even at the bottommost level? Do graduates from our nation’s military academies join the ranks of commissioned officers with the mentality that other service branches are the enemy?
The simple answer is no. The intense rivalries during the post-WWII era were felt most between the topmost officials in government and military service, and the combination of adding a third major branch of service on top of budget cuts did not make things any easier. The truth is that soldiers from all branches of service share a common understanding and mutual respect for one another. Each man and woman in the military is following the same calling: Dedicating their lives to the protection of our country and our freedoms.
One of the best places to see the mutual respect between service branches is in the tradition of trading challenge coins. If you look at a soldier’s collection of challenge coins, you will most likely see an odd assortment of different shapes, sizes and colors. This is because there are coins representing every branch of service, from all sorts of different organizations. As soldier’s cross paths, they exchange coins like these as a sign of respect and honor.
Another Look at the Military Academy Rivalry
The West Point vs. Annapolis rivalry goes back as far as the late 1800s. At the surface, it may look like a heated rivalry, but on closer inspection, you will find more camaraderie than bitterness between them. At the end of each game, players will sing both team’s alma maters as a sign of mutual respect and solidarity. First, the winning team will join the losing team, facing the losing team’s students. Then the losing team will do the same, facing the winning team’s students.Even though Cadets are taught to “Beat Navy” and Midshipmen are taught to “Beat Army,” soldiers on both sides have a strong respect and understanding for their opponents. For a pair of institutions like these, exchanging military academy challenge coins between schools is the perfect way to honor a history of competition and camaraderie.