A funny thing about those Hogettes celebrating the Washington Redskins' playoff win Jan. 8 at FedEx Field: If you look underneath those dresses and pig snouts, you're likely to find a military man.
The Hogettes, a familiar sight to Redskins fans for well over a decade, have a decidedly military flavor. Six on the 11-pig Hogettes roster have military backgrounds, as do six former Hogettes (known as "missing links").
The founder of the Hogettes, Michael Torbert (Boss Hogette), is a former Navy officer who served on the headquarters staff of Adm. Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy. "If the old man could see me now," said Torbert, who sported a black-and-white polka-dot dress for a recent game.
Another member of the squad--Dave Spigler, the Hogette known as Spiggy--is the deputy maintenance officer at the Naval Force Aircraft Test Squadron at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park.
Something else not commonly known about the Hogettes is that they are fund-raising dynamos who do a lot of work to raise money for children's charities. Working events around the year and soliciting contributions from around the region--even donating their fee from a Ford commercial a few years back--they have helped raise more than $60 million for 22 charities in their 16-year existence.
"Our whole program is about raising money for charity, even though people think of us as buffoons at football games," Spigler said.
Indeed, the Hogettes were inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame last year in a special new category honoring fans.
Torbert has several theories about the preponderance of military men among the Hogette ranks. "They're secure in their self-image," Torbert said. "Because it's not an easy task to put on a dress and go out in public.
"They're all men of action versus just talking about it," Torbert added. "They're not afraid to go into a hospital and make a sick kid smile."
Among the military Hogettes are retired Navy Master Chief Ralph Campbell (Grandpaw) and former Army men George Maxfield (Big Georgette), Joe Varnadore (Joevette) and Howard Churchill (Howiette).
Then then are the former Hogettes who did their time in service, among them Frank Gensiak (Frankette) and Boots Bagby (Bootsette), both former Army Rangers; Bill Bruhmuller (Bruhette), a retired Navy SEAL; Jack Stevens (Jackette), a retired Army aviator; George Conway (Little Georgette), a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel; and Rod Bell (Rodette), former Army.
The military experience comes in handy when the Hogettes go on the road to unfriendly stadiums, particularly in New York and Philadelphia, Torbert said. "When we encounter hostile activity, we can convert into a commando unit mode real quick and exit the hot zone fast," he said.
Spigler was in the Navy for 20 years before retiring in 1985 and going to work at Pax River as a civilian Navy employee. "If you'd told me when I was active duty I'd end up wearing a dress and going to football games, I would have said you were out of your mind," Spigler said.
But Spigler, who grew up in Washington and has been a Redskins fan all his life, was a self-described "Hogette wannabe" for years and eventually found himself donning Hogette-style garb for the entertainment of relatives. "I learned I had a lot of ham in me," he said.
In 1992, after Spigler met the real Hogettes, "they voted me in," he said.
The Jan. 8 27-13 victory over the Detroit Lions was Spigler's first playoff game as a Hogette, and after a six-year drought it was a big deal for the entire squad. "It's a chance to get our snouts out there," Spigler said.
The Hogettes live a life of relative anonymity most of the time. "Nobody knows us when we get out of our snouts," Spigler said.
Still, Spigler's extracurricular activities are pretty well-known at Pax River. The base put out a news release about Spigler in October headlined "Force maintenance deputy doubles as philanthropic pig."
D.C. Guard Was on Y2K Alert
More than 1,000 members of the D.C. National Guard spent their New Year's weekend away from their families training and drilling at the D.C. Armory, just in case disaster struck.
Guard officials scheduled the regular weekend training to coincide with the holiday on the outside chance the troops would be needed on the streets to help with Y2K-related problems. They never were.
Inside the armory, large-screen televisions were set up to show movies and sports for off-duty troops. "Since they have to be here on New Year's Eve, we're making it a bit more bearable," said Lt. Col. Tony Alford, commander of the MP battalion.
One thing was missing, however. "No alcohol whatsoever," Alford said. "Not unless they want to go home."
At the D.C. Guard's command center, banks of television screens on the wall flashed scenes from around the globe. Sgt. 1st Class Harold King made the best of missing the celebration with his family. "Where else can you go and see the holiday come in all over the world?" he said.
Worship services also were held.
About 300 D.C. Guard military policemen did get to hit the streets to help direct traffic and to assist with crowd control.
Instead of combat fatigues, the MPs were dressed in snazzy class A uniforms, with trench coats, black ties and white hats. The sartorial choice was not just in honor of the holiday. It was also meant to give the military a low profile.
"We want to make the public feel very comfortable and not like we're ready for a battle or anything like that," said Lt. Col. Phyllis Phipps-Barnes, spokeswoman for the D.C. Guard.
Like many Guardsmen, Alford was philosophical about working the holiday. "You'd rather be with your family, but this is an important event," he said. "I'm taking the stance that it's not the millennium this year, it's next year. I'll celebrate it next year."
Military Matters appears every other week. Steve Vogel can be reached at email@example.com via e-mail.