Army running back Markel Johnson runs past the Navy defense for a touchdown during the 2022 edition of the service academies’ rivalry game in Philadelphia.

Army running back Markel Johnson runs past the Navy defense for a touchdown during the 2022 edition of the service academies’ rivalry game in Philadelphia. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

Before the invention of the forward pass, the first ever Army-Navy football game was played in 1890. Over the 133 years that have passed, it has become a rivalry ingrained in the American psyche and forever embodied by the phrases “Go Army. Beat Navy” and “Go Navy. Beat Army.” These battle cries are deeply woven into the identities of West Point and the Naval Academy. They are the first things cadets and midshipmen learn upon their arrival on campus in West Point and Annapolis. Students open and end meetings with those storied slogans, they wear them on their clothes (on those rare occasions they’re not in uniform), and they even yell them after games with other teams.

While the football trash talk is dished out year-round, it is actualized only one day a year: game day. And yet upon graduation, these men and women, these midshipmen and cadets, will take on the same duties and responsibilities: to risk their lives for the preservation and promotion of this great nation. The people they play on the football field and tease in the stands become the people they fight alongside on the battlefield.

There’s a lot to learn from the example of these cadets and midshipmen: that while we may compete, we must put aside our differences to realize a shared purpose as collective parts of the American experiment. Deeper than any rivalry or any competition, is mutual respect. Respect for the shared mission and shared motivation.

As a West Point graduate and a Naval Academy graduate ourselves, we are proud to serve together as members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Not believing our service to the American people ended when we left the military, we came to Capitol Hill during highly polarized times when veteran representation in Congress was at near-historic lows. When we arrived, we were met with legislative stagnation incited by the infighting and divisiveness along party lines. The feeling here is often tribal: The people across the aisle are our enemies; our parties are our teams.

We reject this premise. While we belong to different parties, we agree that our political affiliations mirror our allegiance to our alma maters. They’re a part of our identity. But so too is our dedication to this country. In the most challenging of times, we must prioritize our American identity and duty over our political affiliations. We must be brought together by our common goal to work on behalf of the American people. We know that while we may disagree on the specifics of how to get there, we both want the same thing: what is best for this nation and the American people. It is so much harder to alienate one another when we recognize we are both working toward the same goals.

As veterans serving in Congress, we’ve seen how the lessons we’ve learned from our time in the military can be applied to our service today. Serving in both contexts, we’ve seen the importance of being able to work under pressure and with people of different backgrounds. Both now and in uniform, we spent time away from family and put the interests of this country before our own. We don’t back down from a challenge and we must always persevere, both for the people we were elected to represent and those we’re serving alongside.

The quickly approaching Army-Navy Game has a lesson to teach, one we’d like to share with our colleagues and our fellow Americans. It’s the perfect example of adversaries becoming partners. The leadup to the game is campaign season. Game day is Election Day. And everything after is our time in office — focused on working together with a shared mission. We must learn, as the cadets and midshipmen exemplify, that our differences can be put aside to do our jobs with respect for one another.

As a nation, we face a host of difficult challenges from conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East to domestic political disagreements here at home. In these moments of conflict, we ask our colleagues to join us in common cause. We are more alike than we are different.

We’ll see you on the field. “Go Army. Beat Navy.” “Go Navy. Beat Army.”

John James, a Republican representing Michigan’s 10th Congressional District, is a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. Army for eight years. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, is a Naval Academy graduate who served in the U.S. Navy for nearly 10 years. Both members belong to the bipartisan For Country Caucus, a group of 30 military veterans serving in Congress who work across party lines to pass thoughtful legislation on national security, veterans affairs and military quality of life.

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