Tributes & Stories


Messiah Memories

Operation Goat Rope 

Messiah Memories

By Roger Chapa '79

I almost didn’t do it. Preparing for the Messiah was going to take one night each week  for at least an hour. That was precious study time for a struggling Midshipman with a 2.something grade point average.  In the end, there were two factors that swayed my decision. First, it was an excellent chance to spend a little extra time with the ‘79ers in the Catholic Choir. We, along with volunteers from the other religious choral groups would be the “main body” of the the Messiah performance. These truly were a great bunch of guys. Second, there was the promise of the Hood girls. While the Naval Academy had plenty of tenors and baritones to fill the chapel,  sopranos and altos were a rare commodity.

And so the alliance with Hood College. They were able to provide the required female voices to fill out the performance and, of course, the boy/girl dynamic could not be minimized.  Still, I wasn’t sold on the idea until Nick, our glee club representative,  asked if I was going to participate. While the glee club  was the core of the Naval  Academy’s contribution to the Messiah, as many voices as could be gotten were needed to fill the space of the Chapel. So when Nick told me that he would be the one that paired up the Hood girls with dates for the weekend, the deal was sealed and I signed on to sing the Messiah. 

I thought it would be all about the Hood girls but I was wrong.  To begin with, the preparation was tedious and repetitive. We midshipmen would meet in a small auxiliary chapel underneath the main chapel every week for months and we would practice only those parts that applied to our specific section. As a result, not only did we not hear  what the other sections sang (the soprano’s weren’t even there, they were 74 miles away at Hood) but often only a specific section would sing the same small part of the piece, never fully understanding how it fit in. I’m sure that anyone who has trained for a serious musical piece would see this as the normal process, but this was the first time for many of us and even more, some of us were unfamiliar with the Messiah altogether. I can truly say that the only part I was in any familiar with was the “Hallelula” chorus. Even more, I was raised a Catholic and the Hallelula chorus was never  raised to the same level of importance that seemed to be given to it in some of the other Christian faiths. This was a real “forest for the trees” type of experience for me. We soldiered on, never seeming to get our part just right but in the end eventually reaching the minimum standard that our conductor was looking for. 

The week of our performance finally arrived and the girls from Hood arrived a day early so that we could have a combined practice.   The practice was good but I still didn’t “get it” and was honestly more interested in the girls than the music. When the night of our first full performance came, we dressed in our mess dress, the Hood girls in evening gowns and we met in the crypt underneath the chapel. This was our normal marshaling area for any Chapel event and though it might seem odd for us to gather in the final resting place of John Paul Jones,  the location gave our gathering a formal tone and added a sense of purpose to the evening.  If we were going to impose on the father of the US Navy, we better  do him proud! 

My next surprise came when the featured soloists were introduced to for the evening.  I knew that they would be there but when their credentials were detailed I was floored. These were real pro’s! I wondered what I’d gotten  myself into!

Finally the time came to enter the Chapel. We left the crypt via a small passageway and a narrow spiral staircase led us to a small door just behind the main altar area. We went to our assigned spots and a feeling of expectation overwhelmed  me. I looked out on the spectators and there wasn’t a single seat open. The Chapel was filled to capacity and every one of them was in their finest. It struck me that they knew, certainly more than I, that something special was about to happen.  I had no idea how I was going to meet their expectations.  I looked at my buddies and wondered how we were going to feel when we bombed. Again, I looked out to the crowd and noticed one of the finely attired ladies sitting in the front row of pews. She had the eager countenance of someone who  had no doubt  that this was going to be a memorable experience. Her demeanor  both calmed me and gave me strength.  I tried to remember to breathe and waited for the performance to begin.   The conductor came to his podium and the Chapel went silent. It felt like the very air pressure of the Naval Academy had dropped! He raised his wand and we began, quietly at first but with purpose. I was energized by the mesmerizing performances of the solos and the precision of my fellow choir members.  Solos and choruses, we told Handel’s story in song. We weren’t quite on autopilot, but I was as prepared for this as I had been for anything in my life and it seemed to get, well not quite easier, but better as we progressed with the oratorio. Somehow our contribution went from singing from memory to actually performing. Then we reached the finale of the Hallelula chorus. It was powerful, moving, joyous and memorable. I can still remember the awesome reverberation of the Naval Academy Chapel’s organ, after the final note was finished, ringing in our ears for a split second before the Chapel erupted in applause. My “muse” in the front row wore a smile from ear to ear and was on her feet clapping.  From the thunderous applause, it was apparent that the entire Chapel felt the same way.    Finally finished, I was in awe of what I’d been part of. To say that we were greater than the sum of our parts was a massive understatement and I wondered what else we Midshipmen could do if we honestly rendered the time and effort due to all our endeavors.  I was truly uplifted and that Holiday season was one of the most memorable of my 20 young years, not to be eclipsed till I was able share Christmas with my wife and later, with our children.

So, what of the Hood girls?  They exceeded all expectations...they sang great!


Operation Goat Rope

By Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward ’79, USN

For military operations to be successful there needs to be careful planning and flawless execution.  On the eve of this year’s Army-Navy game, a team of four Sailors and one Airman executed their mission flawlessly: Operation Goat Rope.

The task was to deliver a Navy goat to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, the morning of the Army-Navy football game during his morning meeting while he was talking to all the regional commanders in Afghanistan—the preponderance being Army—via video teleconference.  This mission would require precise timing and navigating through several potential landmines to achieve success.

The operation started in the early morning hours of Dec. 11, when the team departed Camp Phoenix to drive to ISAF headquarters with Yeoman 2nd Class (SW) Jeffrey Warner behind the wheel.  Lt. Cmdr. Matthew McNally (Citadel class of 2000) previously coordinated with one of our local national interpreters to secure the goat.  As day was breaking on Kabul, the team anxiously awaited a phone call saying the goat had arrived.

The phone call came a few minutes later.  The team drove to the rendezvous point to join up with the interpreter.  Moments later, an Afghan National Army truck pulled up with the goat in the back.  After some wrangling, the goat was offloaded and transferred to U.S. custody.

After loading the goat into the back of an SUV, the team then navigated through several layers of security to arrive at the ISAF compound.  When they arrived, Lt. Jesse Adams (University of Miami law school), a staff judge advocate officer and our “eyes at ISAF,” and Lt. Cmdr. Eric Van Dyke (Texas A&M) offloaded the goat to a holding area before the meeting.

The team had arrived early, so they had to cordon off the goat from ISAF headquarters.  In the process, the goat had a few accidents, which required some dutiful clean up.  The team remained in constant contact with several supporting members, who kept them up to date on when to head into the meeting.

While cordoned off, the goat attracted a lot of attention.  Dozens of people learned of the plan and wanted their picture taken with the soon-to-be star.  Every Sailor who saw the goat knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

The call finally came to head to the meeting.  The team proudly marched the goat through the ISAF compound, but as they were about to enter the building, the goat stopped cooperating.  It took a few nudges and Adams finally carrying the goat up the stairs to get him outside the conference room.

Along the way, the team ran into Rear Adm. Martha Herb, Chief Secretariat, Military Technical Agreement Joint Coordinating Body for ISAF.  Although working for General Petraeus, Admiral Herb quickly joined her Navy brothers for the operation.

As the team anxiously awaited, Admiral Herb poked her head into the standup and at precisely the right moment, waived the team in for the presentation.

The reception was one for the ages.  McNally led the goat in and a photographer, Air Force Master Sgt. Adam Stump, captured the moment as the entire room erupted in laughter.  General Petraeus acknowledged the team with, “that’s great, guys,” as U.S. and coalition leaders from around Afghanistan watched.

After the laughter died down, General Petraeus gamely returned to his meeting as the team and the goat departed triumphantly.  There were several more rounds of photos as Sailors now went in search of their chance to capture history.  The team brought the goat back to Camp Phoenix, where he was kept peacefully until his return trip home.

As a historical footnote, General Petraeus has experience in handling Navy goats.  As illustrated in the enclosed picture, then-Cadet Petraeus was part of an Army team in 1973 who successfully “liberated” the Navy goat, although it didn’t help much since Navy won 51-0 that year.  Thirty-seven years later, the rivalry came full circle with now-General Petraeus receiving the goat back.

As everyone now knows, Navy beat Army Dec. 11 by a final score of 31-17, extending the Midshipmen’s winning streak to nine over the Cadets in the 111th meeting between the teams.  While the game was in Philadelphia, the rivalry—and a carefully and flawlessly executed goat delivery operation—extended 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan.

PHOTO 1: Operation Goat Rope team members (clockwise, from front left) Lt. Cmdr. Eric Van Dyke, Lt. Cmdr. Matthew McNally, Lt. Jesse Adams and Yeoman 2nd Class (SW) Jeffrey Warner march the goat through ISAF headquarters Dec. 11 on way to deliver a Navy mascot to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.  (Defense Dept. photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump)

PHOTO 2: U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander, receives a goat adorned with a Navy flag during his morning meeting Dec. 11, 2010.  U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward, USNA class of ’79 and Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 commander, dispatched a team of four Sailors to give the general the goat, symbolic of the U.S. Naval Academy mascot, before the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. (Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump)

PHOTO 3: Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward, USNA class of ’79, (middle) poses with the goat and Operation Goat Rope members (from left) Yeoman 2nd Class (SW) Jeffrey Warner, Lt. Cmdr. Matthew McNally, Lt. Cmdr. Eric Van Dyke, and Air Force Master Sgt. Adam Stump. Lt. Jesse Adams, not pictured, was also involved in the operation.  (Defense Dept. photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. George Cloutier)

PHOTO 4: Then-Cadet David H. Petraeus poses with a “Beat Navy” sheep during his West Point days.  (Courtesy Army Gen. David H. Petraeus)