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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 10, 1996
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                          ACADEMY FOOTBALL TEAM
                                South Lawn                

10:30 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, Secretary Widnall, to our distinguished military leaders: General Shalikashvili, General Moorman, General Stein, other distinguished military leaders here. Members of the Board of Visitors of the Air Force Academy, Coach DeBerry and the seniors from the Falcons Football Team. We gather together for another happy occasion; but for the United States and especially for members of our military family, this is a sad day. For, early this morning, two Marine helicopters crashed at a massive training exercise at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

At this time, we know that 16 service members were killed and two others very seriously injured. Our hearts go out to the families, the friends and the loved ones of those who lost their lives. Our prayers are with those who were injured for a speedy recovery.

Day in and day out, our servicemen and women put themselves on the line so that our country can remain free and secure. We ask so much of them -- to travel far from home, to be apart from their loved ones, to do difficult and often dangerous work. One of the things I confess I did not fully appreciate until I became President was how dangerous the day-in and day-out, year-in and year-out work of our military -- just training, just doing the defense of our country is, and our citizens should know that.

The seniors here behind me will soon become the guardians of our liberty, just like those fine people who lost their lives last night. And though you have been very well prepared for the job you will do, you still must assume the risks of defending that liberty. Every American owes every one of you who will become an officer or a member of the United States military a tremendous debt of gratitude.

I'm happy to see all of you here today. I'm beginning to wonder if I can make it interesting. If you ever needed proof that we had a joint planning and operation and we're really building a joint culture in the United States military, we're going to give it today with General Shali congratulating the Air Force for another victory over the Army. (Laughter.)

The friendly but fierce inter-service rivalries should mean that almost anything can happen in competition, but at least lately only one thing happens: The Air Force always wins. This is the seventh year in a row the Falcons have come to the White House to collect this prize. I hope the thrill isn't gone.

I understand this past November you actually lost The Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for a short time when there was a sneak attack masterminded by Army pranksters invading your field house before the game. Well, that didn't work, either. (Laughter.) You played a great game this year against Army. I was especially impressed that you came back from a 14-point deficit to win decisively.

I've learned a little something about what it takes to overcome large deficits -- (laughter) -- and I was mightily impressed. I know there were other outstanding highlights of this year's season -- beating Brigham Young's Cougars for the first time in a dozen tries, being co-champions of the Western Athletic Conference, going to the Copper Bowl. The Falcons had a very good year.

If the way you played is any indication of what is to come, Coach, we expect to see the Air Force back here this time next year. I hope I'll be here to greet you. (Laughter.) And I should note that, to the best of my knowledge, unlike me, you are not term-limited.

Finally, let me just say that I was most impressed by something that Coach DeBerry said earlier in the season. He said that through football the players on his team are helped to become better people. That is what we need more of in college athletics and, indeed, in all of our endeavors. It's so important that young people be taught not only to take responsibility for becoming the best they can be in every endeavor, but also doing that in working with a team. That's what makes our military work. That's what makes our country work. And I think sometimes we forget that is the ultimate object of all of our human endeavors. Winning is wonderful, but everybody who does his or her best and who tries to do it with a genuine spirit of cooperation with others is a winner. In that sense, the Air Force will always be a winner. But today, for the seventh year in a row, you are still the possessor of the Commander-in-Chief's trophy.

Coach DeBerry. Let's give him a hand. (Applause.)

COACH DEBERRY: Mr. President, I appreciate it. Thank you very much, kind words, thank you very much. We are honored to be here.


COACH DEBERRY: It is a great big honor for us, because it's your trophy. Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.

Well Mr. President, distinguished guests, The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is always the number one goal in Falcon football, and we are honored -- I can assure you this morning -- to receive your trophy, and we are certainly proud to display it at the Academy for the many thousands of visitors that we have that grace our Academy every year.

Sir, I'm going to tell you -- you have the biggest, most beautiful trophy in all of sports, and I can tell you, it makes the Super Bowl trophy look like a miniature. (Laughter.) And we're very, very proud this morning to receive it. And on behalf of General Stein and the 1996 senior class, thank you so much for taking time from your demanding schedule to present us the trophy and for allowing us this morning to tour your home.

This day is a day I can assure you that we will never forget, and I can assure you, incidentally, we plan to be back next year --- (laughter) -- and we will work extremely hard toward that goal. But, Mr. President, there are some outstanding leaders in this class, and they're going to be great, great leaders for this nation and they're going to bring tremendous distinction to our Air Force and to our Armed Services. And, sir, that is and always will be the number one mission in Falcon Football at the Academy. (Applause.)

General Stein?

GENERAL STEIN: Thanks, Coach. Mr. President, I'd like to thank you for having us there today. We're enormously proud of this football team, we're enormously proud of these seniors, and I can assure you that coming here every year is interesting and will continue to be interesting.

I think we'll be even more proud of these young men 19 days from now when we commission them as second lieutenants in our great Air Force. They're going to be leaders and they're going to be leaders of distinction. And I would not let this opportunity pass without complimenting Coach DeBerry and his staff.

Winning is important to Coach DeBerry and he's been very successful at our Academy. But even more important to the coach and more important to us is the young men that we develop as leaders of character for our great Air Force. And that's the number one goal in his program and certainly that's why we enjoy having him so much as our coach. So, thank you again, Mr. President, and we hope to see you next year again. (Applause.)

One of our captains, Leron Hudgins, is going to make a presentation to you, Mr. President.

MR. HUDGINS: Mr. President, back in 1992 when you were elected in office and my classmates and I entered the Academy, we knew that it would be just a matter of time before we got a chance to visit you through The Commander-In-Chief Trophy. (Laughter.) We'd like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule, and as a small token of our appreciation, we'd like to present you with a jersey here that has the number one and your name on the back.

Sir, we had a big debate on the plane as to whether or not that jersey would fit, and we were wondering if you could dispel, or put an end to the debate that we had as to whether or not the jersey will fit, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: You mean, you want me to put it on?

MR. HUDGINS: Yes, sir. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I will put it on, but inasmuch as this is an election year, I will not take my shirt off first. (Laughter.) Besides, if I did that, I would get a whole new exercise regime from the coach. (Laughter.) What do you think? (Applause.)

MR. HUDGINS: Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great fit. I like it.

MR. HUDGINS: We also have a hat here for you so that you can wear on the golf course or on your morning runs or whenever you feel like portraying the image as a winner. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: That's a high level of confidence, that 1992 remark. (Laughter.) Well, I thank you very much. I will run in the jersey, I'll play golf in the cap, and I'll always remember this day.

One thing I do want to say again is that, as confident as these young people are, I've never heard any of these young men say in the last four years anything that could be roughly interpreted as, when we're not around they won't have a great team anymore. (Laughter.) And I think again that's a real tribute to the spirit of teamwork that prevails.

So I thank you, I'm glad to be here, and I think we're going to take a couple of pictures, and then we'll break up and shake hands.

END 11:07 A.M. EDT