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JCS chairman underscores importance of Academy experience

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff greets the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcon football team Dec. 30, 2009 prior to their appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas against the University of Houston Cougars on New Years Eve.  (U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff greets the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcon football team Dec. 30, 2009 prior to their appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas against the University of Houston Cougars on New Years Eve. (U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

FORT WORTH, Texas (AFPS) -- On hand for a pair of service academy football bowl games in Texas Dec. 31, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff underscored the symbolism of the matchups for troops around the world.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen also emphasized the importance of looking at an academy experience as a potential for launching careers as military officers.

"These games are watched around the world and the players playing in them know that so that they represent great institutions," he said in an interview before the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl here that pitted the Air Force Academy against the University of Houston.

Mullen, who returned recently from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, said the games in which service academies appear resonate with military personnel stationed in the Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.

"I just returned from being overseas for a week, and some of the discussions I had with players were about these games," he said. "They're very proud of the teams and what they represent."

The chairman said one of the things he reminds players of is the institutions and the country they represent -- a sense of scale and magnitude that young players often find hard to comprehend.

"My recollection of being at that age is you don't realize per se how special cadets or midshipmen are, and who they represent," Admiral Mullen said.

The chairman said his presence at the game here, and later at the Texas Bowl in Houston, in which the Naval Academy faced off with Missouri, was to remind them of the resonance of their mission and to show the nation's appreciation for their service.

A day earlier in a pep talk to the Air Force team, Mullen shared an anecdote about meeting a former center on the Falcon team who had planned to conclude his service in the Air Force after his stint at the academy and once his mandatory service tenure was complete. But that player, now a captain whom Admiral Mullen met during his recent trip Afghanistan, decided to take another look at the Air Force as a career, he said.

"He said, 'I got commissioned, and it's probably something I'm going to do for a career,'" the admiral said Dec. 30, 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, then remain in the military for another -- a model that echoes Admiral Mullen's own.

"I actually made the decision to go to the service academy without a long-term vision," he 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."

Asked what caused him to decide to remain in military for a career, Admiral Mullen cited two reasons.

"First, it would be the mission and serving your country. And then secondly, it's the people," he said. "I met the best people of my entire life when I showed up at Annapolis; it's been that way right through today: people that care, people you want to be around, teammates just like this football team here today that really are making a difference and doing something bigger than anything for themselves, so in that regard they're a very special group, as are all the service academies."

Not trivializing the gravity of today's bowl games, Admiral Mullen predicted -- accurately, it turns out -- that both teams would win in exciting games.

"Yes, they're focused on a football game, there should be no other focus today," he said. "But there's also a lot to look forward to."