Obama Salutes Air Force Academy’s Football Team
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 18, 2011 President Barack Obama today presented the prestigious Commander in Chief's Trophy to the U.S. Air Force Academy’s football team, marking the first time since 2002 that the trophy will return to Colorado Springs, Colo.
Obama joked with the team, accompanied by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz and Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould, about the honor of outperforming the U.S. Military Academy and breaking the U.S. Naval Academy’s seven-year winning streak.
“Until this year, no one on this team knew what it felt like to beat Army, to beat Navy, to visit the White House, and to earn football bragging rights over the other branches,” Obama told the Falcons during the ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. “Now you know the feeling.”
Obama praised the Air Force as not just a good service academy team, but “a good team -- period.” He recognized its 350 rushing yards against the University of Oklahoma, its bowl game win against Georgia Tech and its 9-4 finish in what Coach Troy Calhoun called the toughest schedule a service academy ever played.
“Of course, I hear the victory that was sweetest of all was finally beating that Navy team,” the president said. “I’m told that as soon as the final whistle blew, the loudspeakers started blasting Etta James singing ‘At Last,’” drawing laughter from the group. “The entire cadet wing -- usually some of the most disciplined young men and women you’ll ever see -- just rushed the field and sang the alma mater with the team.”
While the Air Force’s football team has much to be proud of, Obama said what truly sets them apart is that its members aren’t defined just by being football players.
“They’re airmen first,” he said. “And more important than any bowl game or trophy is the commitment they’ve made to serve this country.”
That’s why, the president said, while nearly every other Division I team was working out and running through practice drills, “these players were scattered around the world learning the skills they needed long after they take off their jerseys and hang up their helmets.”
Quarterback Tim Jefferson was at Dover Air Force Base, Del. learning about C-17 aircraft, Obama noted. Tight end Josh Freeman was training in Japan. Cornerback Reggie Rembert was getting up every morning at 3 to take summer classes, command a squadron of 127 freshman cadets and organize practices for players who were still in town.
Being away from their teammates meant players had to come up with creative ways to stay in shape, the president said. “The conditions weren’t always ideal,” he said. “But as Coach [Troy] Calhoun, a former Falcon himself, said, ‘The good ones will find a way.’”
“This team found a way,” Obama said. “And now that the season is over, these seniors will have to adjust to a very different life as they become part of the finest military that the world has ever known. It won’t always be easy… But cadets know that what’s expected of them is to do whatever it takes.”
As they begin their military careers, Obama told the players he knows they’ll draw on the camaraderie, work ethic and brotherhood they built as members of the Air Force football team and students at the Air Force Academy.
“As president, I have no greater honor, no greater responsibility, than serving as your commander in-chief,” Obama told the cadets. “And as all of you begin your service to our nation, I want you to know that we are going to do everything in our power to help you succeed and help you come home safe. You all make us incredibly proud.”
Calhoun echoed Obama’s praise for the team’s accomplishments, noting its senior-year players are preparing to graduate about a month from now.
That day, as they graduate from the Air Force Academy, the players “will have an opportunity to be a part of the finest team there is -- and that is to lead, to be an [Air Force] officer for the United States of America,” Calhoun said.