by MATTHEW GAULT
He’s cute, fuzzy and charming … but, according to Navy officials, he doesn’t belong on a boat. We’re talking about a goat.
On April 27, 2015 the Navy announced it had relieved USS Lake Erie Capt. John Banigan of his command pending investigation into a “poor command climate” aboard the ship.
Banigan first took control of guided missile cruiser Lake Erie in 2011 after a long career aboard other vessels. He served two years, just long enough to arouse the suspicions of Navy investigators back home in San Diego.
When the investigators began to look into Banigan, they discovered the goat. The creature in question is Master Chief Charlie, a pygmy goat. Press surrounding the beast has called Charlie the Lake Erie’s “unofficial mascot.”
But for an unofficial mascot, Charlie sure did post for a lot of official pictures.
Thanks to a relentless investigation by The Navy Times, we know some of the details of the story. The crew of the Lake Erie picked up the goat in 2012 as a joke, a play on the term “goat locker,” which is Navy slang for the chief petty officers’ mess hall.
The joke continued for years and the goat made public appearances alongside the crew. It even posed with the Navy’s chief of naval operations — Adm. Jonathan Greenert — in 2013.
The trouble started when Banigan decided to bring the goat along when the Lake Erie made a trip from Hawaii to San Diego.
California has a lot of laws surrounding the transport of animals. According to state law, a vet must examine incoming goats, then tag the creature and issue its owner a permit. Banigan didn’t do this.
His pet negligence may have cost him his command. It has, at the very least, deprived Lake Erie of its goat.
War Is Boring reached out to Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet — the Navy entity investigating Banigan — to see if it could tell us what Banigan was in trouble for. Was it just the goat or was there more? Was Master Chief Charlie safe?
“There’s not much more I can tell you with regard to this situation as the matter is still under investigation,” Lt. Rick Chernitzer told War Is Boring.
“I can confirm that there was a goat aboard the ship but that the goat is no longer aboard.”
That goat isn’t happy about the situation. Someone opened a Twitter account on May 1 using the goat’s name and began to bleat about the incident.
Charlie now has 1,000 followers.
To deprive a boat of its goat ignores a long naval tradition of animals aboard ships. This isn’t even the first time a goat has caroused with sailors aboard a U.S. Navy vessel.
Where do you think the term goat locker comes from? Long before modern ships, sailors traveling long distances kept animals aboard their ships. The creatures were a source of comfort and provided milk, eggs and — if times got desperate — meat.
Early sailors prized goats in particular for their ability to eat anything — including garbage — and turn it into milk.
Bill the Goat is the official mascot of the United States Naval Academy. In 1893, the USS New York sailed with a goat named El Cid. Another goat sailed on the USS Rhode Island in 1913.
The U.S. Naval Institute published an illustrated history of goats on boats in 2014.
There was even once a goat on a submarine.
In 1961, a couple of sailors serving aboard the World War II vintage USS Archerfish stumbled back to their sub after a drunken night of shore leave. That’s when they came across an old farmer selling a goat and a rooster.
The sailors used the trunk of a taxi to get the animals back to the Archerfish. The goat ran amok on the sub for hours before the sailors realized that a confined space was no place for such an animal. The smell alone had convinced them of that.
But getting the goat off the sub proved harder than getting him inside. It took time, several sailors and a lot of rope to finally move the beast onto the deck of the sub. From there, the sailors took the goat back into town and left him with Navy researchers.
Goats on boats is a long tradition in the Navy. Which makes the whole goatgate scandal stink to high heaven.
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