Bootsy the goat does what she can for her country.

She eats grass. She sticks with the herd. She eats still more grass.

Bootsy lives on a very hilly two-acre plot of land at the Naval Air Station Key West. The tract is grassy and thick with shrubs, and beneath the green is a century-old artillery bunker called Battery Seminole.

The battery is one of the island's last military remnants dating back to the Spanish-American War. Its sides are blanketed with vegetation, precipitously steep and impossible to mow.

For decades after the battery was abandoned in 1942, no one paid much mind as it sprouted all manner of flora. But then came a commanding captain named Larry Cotton, a disciplined man who believed that no self-respecting naval base should house such a wildly tufted hill. When the top brass scheduled a visit, Cotton ordered that the hill be trimmed. The task fell on Lt. Luis Rioseco, the base's assistant public works officer.

Rioseco's first move was to call a mowing contractor, who took one look at the hill and its nearly vertical sides and then climbed into his truck and left. "He didn't even offer a bid," Rioseco said.

Next, Rioseco tapped three laborers, armed them with weed trimmers and watched them hack at the hill for seven sweaty days. They moaned about it; Rioseco and his boss laughed at them before having a go themselves and lasting four hours.

"Then we tried to cover it with this vegetation that was supposed to choke everything else," Rioseco said. But instead of killing the old plants and grass, the new vegetation took root alongside them. The hill grew even more unruly.

So Rioseco dug into the Navy's pockets and invested in a heavy-duty herbicide, which worked but cost $10,000 each time and had to be applied every three months. The Navy did not like spending $40,000 a year to tame a hill, a predicament that Rioseco was pondering one day while flipping through National Geographic magazine. He saw pictures of sheep on picturesque shorn hills.

"We ought to try to get some of these sheep," he joked to his boss. To his alarm, his boss's eyes lighted up.

Rioseco had to go and find some sheep.

Fortunately, an opening ceremony for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice was underway at the Monroe County Jail, which happens to house a petting zoo. The zoo is filled mostly with animals that are abandoned and abused.

"We have llamas and goats and alligators and snakes and birds," said Elaine Lash, the animal farm specialist for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

For the event, Lash had put out some goats to trim the grass. Word of this development reached Rioseco. He called Lash and asked whether he could borrow some goats. She checked out the battery and agreed.

Bootsy was among the first three goats to go to the base, along with Daisy and Sugar 'n' Spice. The trio arrived, bleating extensively. Then they put their noses to the ground, bared their goat lips and started to eat.

All sorts of goat drama ensued. Bootsy had a baby, but it died, even after Rioseco's wife bottle-fed it at home. Three more goats were shipped in, including a ram that leapt over the fence and ran all over the base and an old nanny goat that could not eat the grass because it had only half its teeth. A billy goat fell off a slope and died.

But the grass got cut, and people on the base grew attached to the goats. Officers brought their children to look at them. Rioseco fielded frantic phone calls whenever the goats disappeared. Invariably, he would find them hanging out in an open bunker, blinking at him.

Today, a year and a half after Bootsy first set hoof on naval ground, Rioseco says the goats have been a success: People like them, it smells only when the wind blows from the northwest, and he is saving $40,000 a year. But being a military man, he still dreams of a perfect crew-cut lawn.