It’s not every day that a news release moves across the Associated Press wire alerting editors worldwide that the Navy named a guided-missile destroyer after Army’s football coach.
But at noon on Monday came the headline “Acting SECNAV Thomas Modly Announcing the USS Jeff Monken.”
The next 332 words described how DDG-135 — under construction at “South Hudson Shipyards” in Highland Falls, New York — came to be named in honor of the 37th head coach of the Black Knights.
“As a result of a friendly wager with my friend Mark Esper, current Secretary of Defense and West Point graduate, I am pleased to announce that the USS Jeff Monken will be the next great Navy destroyer,” Modly was quoted as saying in the release.
The wager was over last year’s Army-Navy gridiron tilt. The Midshipmen lost by a touchdown so Modly agreed to name a warship after Monken, who arrived at West Point in 2014.
Had Navy triumphed, future Army aviators would’ve been flying FARA-360s named in honor of Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, according to the release.
Congress has approved funding for DDG-135, but it remains unnamed. The Naval Vessel Register indicates that while General Dynamics Bath Iron Works is the planning yard, the building will be done by Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The “Media Contact” listed at the bottom of the release was “Mike Nemeth.”
His phone number suspiciously had a Hudson Valley area code.
A ring summoned a tired voice uttering “Corps of Cadets.”
He didn’t know a Mike Nemeth but said Army does have some boats on the river. He didn’t know if the piers were called the South Hudson Shipyards.
A bit of skulduggery — well, plopping “Mike Nemeth” into a search engine — revealed the mastermind behind the release. Messages to his Twitter and LinkedIn pages soon brought a call from Columbus, Ohio, to Navy Times.
Meet Mike Nemeth, 37, Army Class of 2004. In fact, the former military intelligence officer — and current class president — pulls these pranks annually.
“It’s a great way to kick off the ‘Beat Navy’ season!” he said.
Nemeth plots his prank throughout the year, bouncing ideas off a small test circle before springing the gag on unsuspecting Midshipmen.
This year’s effort worked perfectly for a few hours after he uploaded it Sunday to the Newswire — until Esper’s bombshell that he’d asked the Navy secretary to resign.
The original release had Richard V. Spencer’s name in it, not Modly’s.
Nemeth had to scramble and rework the joke, including photoshopping Modly’s mug into a photo of a fake ship naming press conference.
“I keep a notebook of ideas throughout the year,” Nemeth told Navy Times. “Originally, my idea was to have the Navy’s biggest and baddest warship, Monken, deployed in the Strait of Hormuz, but that started to get a little complicated."
An entrepreneur — his Emblem Athletic sells customized team apparel, including to Navy grads — he’s also an author.
“Discipline: The Annapolis Way: Lessons from the Nation’s 4th Best Military Academy" was a 2017 fake book destined to fly to the top of the Amazon Military History charts.
“Every page is blank except for the bottom, where it reads, ‘Beat Navy,'" Nemeth said.
Perhaps the saddest of the 314 Amazon reviews is from a customer, Karlie, penned last Christmas: “It’s not a serious book but I had no idea so it ruined Christmas.”
Apparently, she unwittingly bought a gift that “really upset the recipient.”
As for this year’s game, Nemeth predicts a close Black Knights’ victory, 17-14.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.