By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2011 – President Barack Obama, who attended yesterday's 112th Army-Navy game, said the tradition goes far beyond friendly rivalry to showcase the men and women in uniform he said represent America's best.
The president, along with Vice President Joe Biden, his wife, Jill, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among almost 81,000 spectators at the game at FedEx Field here.
The president tossed the coin before kickoff and visited with servicemembers, wounded warriors and their families during the game.
Navy led the scoring early on, with the teams tying at onc point, before Navy ultimately clinched its 10th consecutive win over Army, 27-21.
The game was rich in tradition and ceremony. Army and Navy uniforms were ever-present among the crowd, and a Navy choir sang the National Anthem to huge cheers and canon fire. Four F-18 Hornet fighter jets, followed by four Apache AH-64 helicopters, conducted a flyover.
Obama called the game a celebration of America's military. "It's a reminder that, as much fun as these things are, part of what we celebrate is the dedication and sacrifice that all the young men and women who are in the stands are going to be making for our country, day in and day out," he said.
The president said his visits to both the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., leave him deeply impressed with the cadets and midshipmen.
"They are remarkable," he said. "They are smart. They are dedicated. They are tough. They love their country and they are doing an incredible job."
Obama joked that he had to be careful not to take sides during yesterday's game, noted that his grandfather served in Army Gen. George S. Patton's Army and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
The president spent the first half of the game on the Navy side with Panetta and midshipmen, then switching sides at halftime. During a ceremonial half-time exchange, the president walked down the 50-yard line between a row of Army cadets in grey dress coats and capes on one side and Navy midshipmen in black coats and white scarves on the other.
Also during halftime, the Bidens visited 49 soldiers, 18 sailors, an airman and two Marine wounded warriors and their families at the game.
Talking with CBS commentators during the game, the president recalled playing football in the 9th grade before realizing he was built more for basketball. "I was a big kid in the 8th grade, and then in the 9th grade, suddenly everyone started getting a little heavier than me," he said.