Since 1890, cadets at West Point, New York, the US Army’s training academy, have taken on navy midshipmen from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in one of the oldest and fiercest college football rivalries in America.
On many occasions in its nearly 130-year history, sitting US presidents have attended the game. The Army-Navy Cup has seen significant growth over its six years at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia, with attendance surpassing 10,000 fans. Last year’s Army-Navy Cup was the third-highest attended college soccer match in the United States.
Televised annually to millions of viewers, one of the more quaint traditions is the matter of the live animal mascots each side parades. For the navy, it is always a goat. The US army parades a mule. This is where airfreight comes in.
West Point graduate and former infantry airborne officer Steve Townes, now ACL Airshop chairman and CEO, has agreed to sponsor the army’s mule in perpetuity.
Spending the kids’ inheritance
In making this agreement, Townes is in fact ‘spending the kids’ inheritance’, a fact he does not disguise.
“Speaking tongue-in-cheek, the kids will all do just fine when the old man finally checks out. They don’t resent the mule thing, in fact it’s sort of a fun family folklore thing now. And we get good seats at football games, once in a while.
“My wife and our five adult children have all committed to it, it’s formalised in my legal papers. When I pass, I’ll be cremated and my family has agreed to throw my ashes into the Hudson River on the banks at West Point—very fitting.
“The total amount of the perpetual pledge, some given as incremental payments while I’m still alive (because I enjoy it), the residue handled through my estate, will “probably” exceed $XXX,XXX or more as a perpetual “mule fund.”
“That healthy six-figures amount must remain a military secret. That sum is more than enough to cover mules forever, given their cost and longevity in stadium duty. I’ve given consideration to someday making it a “cool million,” and maybe using the extra funds to curate mule memorabilia in the on-campus West Point Museum, but time will tell.
“The Ranger Aerospace ventures have been very fortuitous for my family, for our investors, and indeed for our employees and stock-owning fellow company officers, and we continue growing wonderful enterprises to this day.”
Townes started his sponsor just after the turn of the century, having donated five mule mascots so far in the past 16 years.
ACW asked Townes if he knew when the US Army last used mules for transport, probably later than most people suspect.
He says: “Fantastic question! Though mules have been the pack animal of choice for armies on the march for literally thousands of years, they are still in use today. Special Forces operatives use mules in places like Afghanistan as a reliable way to traverse the steep mountains with heavy gear, beyond the capabilities of road vehicles.
“In fact, Ranger “III” and Stryker, two of the three mules currently on duty at West Point, were “recruited” from the Equine Training Unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were part of the Special Operations Group there. Their “classmates” are serving somewhere in Harm’s Way, as they enjoy the football stadium at West Point.”
As a veteran himself, Townes is candid in his interest in employing fellow veterans. He says: “We will preferentially hire veterans if the situation allows. In our previous venture called Ranger Intl Services Group, we had 1,200+ employees, and over 60 per cent were veterans. Nowadays, ACL Airshop is uniquely commercial, so it depends on the needs and on the candidates.”
What skills did West Point equip Townes with that work in the boardroom? He says: “I could wax eloquent on this, but suffice to say that the West Point experience imbues the graduate with strong core values, high-energy work ethic, leadership skills, and indefatigable get-things-done sense of mission. Most importantly, for me anyway, it also means “Be a great employer for our people.” That has been a major differentiator in our strong of large-scale successes these past 21 years since starting Ranger Aerospace.”
Ranger “III” is the largest and heaviest mule in the history of West Point mules. Townes says: “He’s huge. We “recruited” him from the Special Forces Equine Training Unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The home base for “Special Operations.”
“Think of him as a “Delta Force Mule,” named in honour of all Army Rangers in history. My only stipulation with this charity is that one of the three on-duty mules at the Academy will forever be named “Ranger” as a permanent honour.”
Coincidentally, ACL Airshop is supporting the “world’s largest herd of flying horses” travelling to the United States in September for the quadrennial World Equestrian Games, known as the “Olympics for Horses”.
The next Army-Navy Game is on December 8, 2018 in Philadelphia.