Before kickoff at the Army-Navy football game, seven cadets and seven midshipmen will walk to mid field to be traded back to their home academies. The annual prisoner exchange ceremony is part of the Service Academy Exchange Program where students from each of the four service academies are exchanged to spend the fall semester at an academy other than their own.
The students enrolled in the program spend the semester living at their exchange academy, taking classes and training with fellow future leaders in the American military. The program has roots dating back to 1945 when West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen did a weekend long exchange program. The program expanded to a semester long in 1975 and has continued ever since.
Second Class cadets, or Cows, from West Point can participate in the exchange, but must go through a competitive selection process. In 2018, seven cadets are at each the Naval and Air Force academies and five are at the Coast Guard Academy for the fall semester.
"I wanted to participate in the Navy exchange program because it provided a great opportunity to learn more about another service academy and about two other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces," Class of 2020 Cadet Kevin Rinkliff said. "Despite the rivalry, we are both on the same side of the fight, and I knew that learning more about the experiences of Naval Academy midshipmen would be beneficial if I ever get the opportunity to work with Navy or Marine Corps Officers in the future."
While they will stay at their exchange academy through the end of the semester before returning to their home academy in January 2019, the cadets and midshipmen will have the chance to sit with their home academy during the Army Navy game Dec. 8, 2018.
Prior to the start of the game, the midshipmen spending the semester at West Point will be led to midfield by the USMA first captain and the West Point cadets will be brought out by the USNA brigade commander. The two academy leaders will then exchange their prisoners before returning to their seating sections, allowing the cadets and midshipmen to cheer on their teams from friendly areas.
"I'm very excited for the prisoner exchange," Class of 2020 Cadet Nathaniel Buss said. "My family will be at the game this year, and I'm looking forward to the last about-face before we run back to the Corps of Cadets. I can't wait to be reunited with my cadet friends that I haven't seen for a semester."
Col. Ty Seidule, the head of the West Point history department, said he is unsure when the prisoner exchange itself became a tradition, but he believes it would have started soon after the semester long exchanges became an annual event so cadets and midshipmen wouldn't be in hostile territory during the rivalry game.
"The prisoner exchange will likely be one of the biggest highlights of my cadet career," Class of 2020 Cadet Daine Van de Wall said. "Not only do I get to represent my school out on the field, but I also get to then run back and cheer on the Army team with my closest friends. It doesn't get much better than that."
This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.