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CHIPS Articles: Army-Navy Swap: Rivals to Friends

Army-Navy Swap: Rivals to Friends
By Joe Lacdan - December 7, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- On a brisk fall afternoon at the U.S. Naval Academy here, four Army Cadets, clad in their black covers and dark cutaway coats, walked among a sea of Navy Midshipmen in front of Bancroft Hall, a massive architectural marvel that's claimed to be the largest singular dormitory in the world.

The four Army Cadets, part of a group of seven on campus here, are actually exchange students from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and are attending school at the Naval Academy for a semester. As part of the Service Academy Exchange Program, a handful of Midshipmen are also up north in New York, attending a semester of school at West Point.

The three-month exchange, which will officially end during a "prisoner exchange" during this weekend's Army/Navy game in Philadelphia, allows students from both service academies to experience life in another branch of the military.

On the Navy campus here, Christmas music can be heard playing softly in the dormitory, as the school welcomes a tour of visitors. A female Midshipman stops to chat with one of the Army students, Cadet Mary Pollin, and Naval instructors greet the future Soldiers as well.

One yells to another, Cadet Tyrus Jones: "Best Cadet in the company!" the instructor says.

The interactions with Midshipmen and instructors reflect camaraderie the Army Cadets say they have experienced in their three months on campus here.

They say that while there exists a friendly rivalry between the Naval Academy and their own school in New York, their experience on campus has proven to them that once they have their commissions and are in the force, they can expect to experience great working relationships with members of other services.

Soldiers Aboard the Naval Academy

During the semester-long exchange program, the Army Cadets live like Navy Midshipman; attending classes there, living in the Navy dorm and taking part in Midshipmen activities.

"I wanted to do the exchange program because I wanted to see how things were different and how they're the same here," said Pollin, whose father is a retired Navy commander. "And also, to just make connections with people who would be Navy and Marine officers, if we're ever doing joint operations."

A typical day at the Naval Academy sounds remarkably similar to one at West Point. It includes an early wakeup call, breakfast, attending classes, then lunch and free time in the afternoons.

"I learned we're a lot more similar than different," said Cadet Mattias Cooper. "A lot of the Midshipmen could easily be Cadets at West Point and vice versa. I think we all have very similar motivations and ambitions. They're all excited to go serve our country."

Aside from the similarities of the two military academies, the Army Cadets noted some differences. For instance, the Naval Academy lies on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay overlooking the eastern tip of mainland Maryland — that's a far cry from the rural woodlands that surround the West Point campus.

Cadet Gerald Lanigan said the geographic location of the Naval Academy, located near downtown Annapolis, and its proximity to both Baltimore and Washington D.C., also give the Cadets additional opportunities for sightseeing.

Jones said that while West Point has upgraded facilities, including a renovated fitness center, life at the Naval Academy is less rigid. Jones said West Point administrators expect Cadets to take part in cleaning details, while the Naval Academy lets Midshipmen have more time to themselves.

Jones said another notable difference is the balance of military and civilian instructors at the two schools. At the Naval Academy, he said, he notices there are a lot more civilian instructors than at West Point.

But overall, Jones said, the biggest differences between the schools has to do with service culture.

"Life is different because everything is centered around the Navy," Jones said. "It's a little bit of a different lifestyle and culture between the two services. It has to do with our history and how it's evolved over the years."

It wasn't just classroom time that Cadets experienced at the Naval Academy. Several of the Cadets also competed in Midshipmen activities while exchange students.

Pollin, who has participated in West Point's NCAA women's cross country and track teams, joined the Navy's marathon club team while part of the exchange program. She ran her first marathon this fall when she competed in the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 22.

Jones participated in the Midshipmen's infantry skills team. In his first week of classes, he took part in "Devil's Mile," a grueling, four-exercise run that includes a 400-meter low crawl. The event challenges participants both physically and mentally. Jones said several of his Midshipmen classmates on the infantry skills team took the screener test for possible candidacy into the Navy Seals.

While an exchange student at the Naval Academy, Cooper participated in his company's Frisbee team, finishing second in the brigade.

Prisoner Exchange

Army Cadets are bound to learn a lot while taking classes and participating in student life at the Naval Academy. And Midshipmen who are attending classes at West Point are bound to learn much as well. But their time as exchange students does eventually come to an end.

This weekend, the seven Army Cadets who spent the fall semester in Annapolis will be marched onto Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia as part of events surrounding the 118th Army-Navy football game there.

After the ceremonial march, those Cadets will be "returned" to the U.S. Military Academy as part of a "prisoner exchange." At the same time, the Midshipmen who spent the semester at West Point will be returned to the Navy.

"I think one of the memories that I will hold onto from my academy experience will be just running across that field," said Cooper.

But the friendships they formed with their Midshipmen classmates will be the most valuable memory from their three months in Annapolis, Cooper said.

"The Midshipmen I've met, especially those in my company and my roommates, have been fantastic," Cooper said. "They instantly took me into their friend group and made me part of their activities.

"What I'm going to take away most is the relationships I've made and the networks I've created."

Army Cadets Mattias Cooper, Titus Jones and Gerald Lanagan, members of the class of 2019, participated in the Army-Navy prisoner exchange program. During the program members from each military academy spend the fall semester at the other's campus, attending classes and taking part in school activities.  Photo Credit: Spc. Angel Vasquez
Army Cadets Mattias Cooper, Titus Jones and Gerald Lanagan, members of the class of 2019, participated in the Army-Navy prisoner exchange program. During the program members from each military academy spend the fall semester at the other's campus, attending classes and taking part in school activities. Photo Credit: Spc. Angel Vasquez

West Point Cadet Mary Pollin (center) spends time with Midshipmen classmates before a Navy football game. In an annual fall tradition, seven West Point cadets and seven Navy cadets each spend a semester on the campus of the other branch of service. Pollin said the program was an opportunity to make friendships in another military branch as well as foster future relationships. Pollin, a junior cadet sergeant, joined the Navy's marathon team this fall and competed in the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C.  Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Mary Pollin
West Point Cadet Mary Pollin (center) spends time with Midshipmen classmates before a Navy football game. In an annual fall tradition, seven West Point cadets and seven Navy cadets each spend a semester on the campus of the other branch of service. Pollin said the program was an opportunity to make friendships in another military branch as well as foster future relationships. Pollin, a junior cadet sergeant, joined the Navy's marathon team this fall and competed in the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Mary Pollin
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