The Washington Generals of the Navy


You know the Washington Generals – the hapless basketball squad that played against the Harlem Globetrotters for over 40 years. Night after night they squared off against the legendary team of razzle-dazzlers, and night after night they lost. They got beat so often, and so consistently, that the term “Washington Generals” became a metaphor for futility and defeat.

The Navy has a Washington Generals team too. They’re called Orange forces, and their job is to take on deployment-ready strike groups (the Blue forces) and lose.


For each training exercise, ill-fated ships get assigned to the Orange team and embark on what amounts to a suicide mission. Trust me on this – they never win. The official message must read something like: “You have been assigned to the Orange forces. You will lose. Deal with it.”

I think it’s cruel, the way fate toys with Orange. Exercises have a certain life-cycle to them, and early on things don’t go always go according to plan. And with each mistake by the Blue forces, Orange hopes soar.


But inevitably, despite herculean efforts by Orange to pull the upset, the Blue forces emerge victorious. Orange sails back into port, humiliated and longing for one more chance that never comes.

There is one little-known fact, however, that should give Orange some heart. From 1953 to 1995, the Washington Generals lost more than 13,000 games to the Harlem Globetrotters (Wikipedia).

But they won six.


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