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Obama Honors Navy Football Team

By Donna Miles/American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2009 - President Barack Obama presented the winning U.S. Naval Academy football team the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy today during a White House Rose Garden ceremony.

Obama extended congratulations to the midshipmen from Annapolis, Md., who bested both the U.S. Military Academy “Black Knights” 34-0 and the U.S. Air Force Academy “Falcons” 33-27 during the 2008 season.

The wins earned Navy the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy – and a trip to the White House to receive it -- for the sixth consecutive year.

“By now, you guys know your way around here better than I do,” Obama said at today’s ceremony, evoking laughter from the group.

Obama offered high praise to Navy for its “fearsome offense” as well as the nation’s most-improved defense.

But amid the levity of the event, he identified attributes that make Navy’s players unique, including the top graduation rate in the NCAA for four straight years and a demanding schedule of coursework and military training.

Obama noted that all 32 seniors on the Navy team are “preparing to trade one proud uniform for another – and that’s the United States of America’s uniform.”

And although the Navy team has won a record 13 straight service academy games dating back to the 2002 Army-Navy game, the president told them, “You’re all joining the same team now.”

“Football, it’s said, makes boys into men,” he said. “But the academy makes men and women into leaders. And the bonds that you've built and the lessons that you've learned on that field and in your ‘four years by the Bay’ have prepared you to join and lead the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

Obama, who is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at this year’s Naval Academy graduation, told the team he has no greater honor or responsibility than serving as their commander in chief. “I'm proud of you,” he said.

“And I promise you this,” he continued. “From the minute you put on that uniform to the minute you take it off, and for all the days of your life, this country will stand behind you and will be here for you, because we know that you will be there for us.”

During today’s ceremony, Obama recognized Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, who in 1949 became the U.S. Naval Academy’s first black graduate, and for whom the academy’s new field house is named.

The president also recalled his Hawaiian roots, recognizing two fellow Hawaiians: team coach Ken Niumatalolo and Midshipman Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, the starting quarterback. Rendering a "shaka" or Hawaiian “hang loose” sign in during the ceremony, Obama noted Niumatalolo’s calmness under pressure. “That’s the Hawaiian spirit,” Obama said. “That’s how we roll.”