Mullen Delivers Pep Talk to Air Force Falcon Football Team
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
FORT WORTH, Texas, Dec. 31, 2009 Doing his best Knute Rockne impression, the nation’s top military officer yesterday delivered a pep talk here to members of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Falcons football team ahead of their bowl game today against the University of Houston.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greets U.S. Air Force Academy Falcon football team members Dec. 30, 2009, the day before they play the University of Houston Cougars in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
College football prognosticators of the matchup, which pits Air Force’s No. 1 passing defense against Houston’s top-ranked passing offense, give Houston a slight edge. But Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Air Force footballers to consider their achievements thus far.
“You are an exclusive group that gets to go to college, go to a bowl game and represent your institution [and country] as you will tomorrow. You are an extraordinarily capable and motivated group,” Mullen said during dinner with the Air Force squad.
As the team digested their beef sirloin, salmon filet and potato dinner at the Omni Hotel, Mullen touched on themes of national service that extend beyond the Falcons’ season and the world of sports in general.
The Chairman shared an anecdote about meeting a former Falcon’s center who had planned to conclude his Air Force service after his stint at the academy and once his mandatory service obligation was complete. But that player, now an Air Force captain who Mullen met during his recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, decided to take another look at the military as a career, he said.
“He said, ‘I got commissioned, and it’s probably something I’m going to do for a career,’” Mullen said, recalling his conversation with the young airman in Afghanistan. He added that it’s not uncommon for troops to attend a service academy for one reason, and then remain in the military for another.
Mullen himself was one such case. “I actually made the decision to go to the service academy without a long-term vision,” the admiral said of his decision to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. “Initially I was only going to be there two years … of course, it worked out a little differently.”
Falcons’ Head Coach Troy Calhoun, a 1989 graduate of the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo., thanked Mullen for making an appearance before the team.
“Admiral, thank you for taking time out to get with our guys,” Calhoun said. “More than anything else, we’re grateful for your tremendous leadership.”
As a token of thanks for his appearance at today’s Armed Forces Bowl game, where the Air Force team will play a rematch of last year’s defeat at the hands of Houston, Falcons’ defensive lineman Ben Garland shared the team spirit with Mullen.
“From all of us on the Air Force Falcons, as a token of our appreciation, we wanted to give you this for coming to talk to us,” said Garland, a hulking nose tackle, who gave Mullen a hat featuring the Falcons’ logo, which the admiral donned to the pleasure of the players.
“Good luck!” Mullen said. “Go kill ‘em tomorrow.”
Mullen also passed out coins featuring his Chairman’s logo as team members swarmed him, shaking hands.
The admiral identified the team’s 15 seniors, expressing praise for their leadership.
“The team gets here because it’s well led,” Mullen said. “It’s not just coaching; a lot of that has to do with leadership ‘within the wing.’”