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CoastLine: Melodie Homer on how losing her pilot husband on 9/11 shaped her life’s work

Melodie Homer was featured in a touching interview about LeRoy, Sept 11 and the foundation’s work. We welcome you to listen to this thoughtful podcast.


First Officer LeRoy Homer fought terrorists on United Airlines Flight 93 after they stormed the cockpit. While the hijackers intended to direct the plane towards Washington, D.C., they could not disable the autopilot function. So they sent the plane plunging into a Pennsylvania field, killing everyone on board. LeRoy Homer’s widow, Melodie Homer, has allowed her grief to shape her life’s work, which includes improving aviation safety and helping underrepresented young people fulfill their dreams of flying.

When Melodie Homer settled on Wilmington, NC as her family’s new home, she was looking for a pace a bit slower than New Jersey. Being close to the beach was a definite boon. In Wilmington, she and her children could start a new chapter.

Her foundation, the LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation, is named after her late husband, who died a hero on September 11, 2001. He was First Officer on United Airlines Flight 93. He fought terrorists after they stormed the cockpit. While the hijackers intended to direct the plane towards Washington, D.C., they could not disable the autopilot function.  So they ultimately sent the plane hurtling into a field at 563 miles per hour into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Everyone on board was killed.

Melodie Homer launched her foundation just one year after she lost her pilot husband in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

On this episode of CoastLine, Melodie Homer talks about lessons she’s learned over the years from what is, for most, an unimaginable tragedy. We find out what she’s learned about the effects on her daughter, the mission of her Foundation, now the multi-generational legacy of LeRoy and Melodie Homer. And we discover why she is so passionate about helping underrepresented young people with a dream to fly.

Melodie Homer, President and Founder, LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation

Rachel Lewis Hilburn Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It’s also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at [email protected].

Our first ever podcast episode!

Have you ever been on a podcast? We thought we would give it a try and continue our work to spread the word about The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation and the flight scholarship!

Click here to listen to our visit with Captain George Nolly, as we explain the work we do to help future young aviators achieve the first step in their aviation dream: The Private Pilot Certification. As a reminder, the application window closes January 31st. Get those applications in the mail!

Focusing On Future Horizons

The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation recently selected its 19th scholarship recipient and hopefully you heard the news on one of the many communication platforms we use these days. Technology is always advancing. Looking back over more than a decade, it is amazing to see the evolution in how we communicate and interact with our supporters, donors, former scholarship recipients and applicants. We have always maintained a website and send out two newsletters annually to share recent news and activity. In the past year we have ventured forward into popular social media formats to include Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. We revamped our Facebook presence and shifted from a private group format to a public Facebook Page giving us better tools and metrics to benefit from social media. The website was refreshed last year as well, and our new platform is updated, fresh and more useful on multiple device types leveraging reflexive technology.

The visions of our future generation of aviators are also forward focused – not only sharing their dreams of flying aircraft in the familiar worlds of general aviation, commercial transportation and military operations but also including plans for flying unmanned vehicles across a wide landscape of uses. The essay sections from this year’s applicants described a wide variety of visions for where (and how) the next generation dreams of flight. We share their interest in participating in the ever evolving world of flying and one constant remains – it all starts with that dream. The dream to fly. To be a pilot.

We recently released our first public service announcement, our message to promote the LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation. It was another innovative project that began with a Kickstarter campaign and the participation of many of our former scholarship recipients. Through the kind support and funding of more than 50 donors, we were able to assemble two teams of prior scholarship recipients in Chicago and Denver, to produce a clear and representative message of who we are and what we do by those who know first hand. We hope you’ll check it out in the website media gallery or on any of our social media platforms. The PSA is our latest step forward, honoring our past and embracing our future.

“Focusing on Future Horizons” was the theme selected for the Kickstarter PSA project. Hopefully you can see in the work we’ve shared above how we are looking ahead to the horizon and tracking a steady course forward. With a Commemorative Event planned for this September and a Fundraising event in development for 2018 to welcome our 20th Scholarship Recipient, we remain focused on our mission, focused on our future. Keeping the dream alive.

(click image to view our PSA)

Are you really an Air Force pilot?

At eleven years into my service with the US Air Force, I’ve accumulated over 3,000 jet hours, deployed nine times, and have had some of the best experiences a pilot could have. From short-field landings in the remote islands of the Philippines to refueling fighters defending friendly troops from enemy fire, the adventures of the Air Force have been countless.

While US Air Force flight training is world-class and many of the experiences once-in-a-lifetime, one aspect that many new recruits don’t consider is the purpose for which the Air Force has commissioned them. If you ask a Marine what they do, they say “I’m a US Marine.” If you ask an Air Force flyer, they might say “I fly,” “I’m a pilot,” or even “I fly .” As budget and manning cuts take their toll on the US military, it is becoming even more apparent that Air Force pilots are first called to be officers.

The encouraged track for a US Air Force pilot involves rotating between operational flying, school, staff, and command. Early on, the focus will be on flying. Several years may be spent in one major airframe, or a rotation between a major airframe and a smaller airframe, giving the opportunity for seasoning and to develop expertise. Most pilots will achieve qualification as an Instructor Pilot or certification as an Evaluator Pilot within these first five to eight years of operational flying. Even within this operational flying period, pilots will assume duties within their flying squadron that may or may not be directly related to aviation. The higher performing officers are typically rewarded by being given more responsibility, which may include working full-time duty outside of flying. While fully employed in one of these positions, such as an Executive Officer, Plans Officer, or one of many other positions, a pilot will still maintain their minimum currencies, but their flying hours will dwindle to accommodate their increased workload in the office.

As an Air Force pilot achieves the rank of Major, their line flying days are nearing an end if they haven’t wrapped up already. The top 20% to 30% of Major’s will be selected for Intermediate Developmental Education, commonly referred to simply as “school.” The typical school tour will be a year long and involves developmental education that can range from military studies to earning a Master’s degree at a civilian university. Following school, a pilot will spend two to four years on staff at a headquarters. During staff, most pilots will not be flying. Following school and staff, the most competitive will go on to be Squadron Operations Officers or Commanders of a flying squadron. This cycle of school-staff-operations repeats again as a pilot approaches the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The next iteration consists of Senior Developmental Education and Group Command. Follow-on commands include commanding a Wing, Numbered Air Force, and Major Command (MAJCOM). Of course, a MAJCOM commander is a 4-star General, so you have an idea of the timeline that this rotation extends to.

While there are exceptions and some pilots are able to maintain flying status throughout their 20-year career, the track that most Air Force leaders will press upon a pilot is as mentioned above. Having supervised and mentored many young aviators, one common frustration I notice is that many enter the Air Force as pilots without realizing their first priority will be to serve as an Air Force officer. As officers, we are given many responsibilities outside of flying which typically involve supervising Airmen, overseeing programs, providing administrative support to commanders, and writing policy. While these duties are balanced with flying early on, eventually an Air Force pilot is shaped into a leader and manager of Airmen. Leading a unit of aircrew is desired, but many pilots go on to manage units and programs that are in a completely different field. They may lead Airmen who specialize in a logistics, transportation, or support role.

The recent ramp-up in Airline hiring in combination with Air Force manning cuts has led to a mass exodus of many Air Force pilots. The typical Air Force pilot will have a 10-year commitment upon graduating pilot training, which ends up meaning a commitment to the 12-year point in the pilot’s career. At the end of this commitment is when an Air Force pilot reaches the “crossroads” of their career… to continue to 20 years of military service to earn a life-time pension or to leave the military for flying in the civilian sector. Another option would be to leave active duty to work part-time in the National Guard or Air Force Reserve while pursuing a civilian job. If one decides to stay on active duty, they will also be challenged to decide whether they want to remain in a flying billet as long as possible or track to command and management positions, which typically coincide with promotions and increased pay.

All in all, there are amazing assignment options in the Air Force. Whether you’re looking for a specific location or a specific job, it most likely exists in some form. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the Air Force will call you to serve as an officer before a pilot. As you achieve rank in the Air Force, it will become more and more evident that your purpose is to lead Airmen while your flying expertise will primarily be used to better lead those Airmen.

oath maj promo

Maj Christina Lee

Strategic Policy Fellow

KC-10 Pilot

Speech Given at Cheyenne Mountain Commemoration Ceremony on September 11, 2014

Thank you General Hyton for the introduction, and thank you to General Jacoby for the invitation to attend. Prior to September 11th, I had accompanied by husband to his 10 year reunion the United States Air Force Academy . I didn’t think I would ever visit this place after he was killed. However my last time here I had the pleasure of seeing one of our scholarship recipients and one of my favorite people, Courtney Schaer, graduate from the Air Force Academy.

After September 11th, we, LeRoy’s family and friends formed the LeRoy Homer Foundation. LeRoy earned his private pilot license prior to starting here at the Academy and we wanted to provide this first step to others with the love and passion for aviation to be able take their first step with us. We currently have five men and women pilots in uniform – three Air Force, two Navy and one Marine. The past two years, our recipients have indicated that after high school, the Academy is their first choice.

I want to talk a little about September 11th, 2001. Many of you were too young to remember the details. LeRoy and I had been married for 3 and a half years, our daughter was 10 months old, 5 weeks from her first birthday. LeRoy had flown a Boston trip and bought her an outfit for the occasion. To this day it is hard for me to still believe my husband went to work and never came home. To this day I think it is hard for us all to conceptualize the loss of 2,977 lives. Using airplanes as WMDs to take innocent lives and destroy symbols of this countrys’ freedoms was unimaginable. Over the years, I have heard the many of the stories of the lives lost that day. I had never imagined scenarios where young children lost both parents in the towers, or the wives who took their own lives in the months afterward. And the first responders. Many lost their lives that day; many lost them years later when the toxic air they breathed that day finally ended their lives.
Our governments worked quickly. Homeland Security was created. NORAD began working with the Canadian government to keep the airspace safe over North America. And I say on behalf of both countries, we are grateful for your protection us safe for the past 13 years. And on occasions such as this we are reminded that we do have to continue to be vigilant. Those who wish to harm our way of life will never stop trying.

In 2011, a study co-chaired by United Airlines and Boeing was completed. The issue at hand was that there was no good way to protect the cockpit from intrusion when the door needed to be opened for the pilots to use the restroom, get their meals or take crew breaks on long haul flights. The results of this study lead to the creation of a safety device called a secondary barrier. A secondary barrier is a steel mesh door that is locked into place when the cockpit door has to been opened. Their research suggests secondary barriers are the most effective way of protecting the cockpit. Some airlines currently have them, however about a year and a half ago, we received information that they had not been installed, and in fact were being removed from the new Boeing airliners. It had been decided they were unnecessary because of all the other layers of security. I’m aware of two – the Federal Air Marshal Program and the Federal Flight Deck Officer program which unfortunately have had their budgets cut.

As I was flying out here yesterday, I thought of an analogy in my own life. My father is 81 years old and has mobility issues. He’s at my home right now as a matter of fact. As a nurse I know that hip fractures in the elderly come with high mortality rates. So when my dad comes to visit, I pull out all the devices I’ve acquired over the years to prevent him falling and I’m constantly looking for devices and aids to prevent him from having a fall. So, how many times has my father fallen? Zero. Since 9/11, there have been 33 attempted cockpit breaches globally, five being successful but fortunately not a part of any act of terrorism, and injuries to the pilots were minimal. The reason for the layers of security is this – 13 years ago we said never again, never again.

Right now there is a house bill with at least 60 bi-partisan co-sponsors with a companion bill in the senate. And as the years have gone by, it seems that we have forgotten the promise we were given. I believe one of the keys to ensuring another 9/11 doesn’t happen is to address and act on any vulnerabilities we know about while the agencies tasked with stopping potential attacks before they reach our soil continue to do their job.

The world is dealing with many difficult situations right now – ISIS, the Ebola virus, the Ukraine – situations that require difficult decisions and solutions. This is not one of those issues. As quickly as we were able to shore up our security after September 11th, 2001, I believe we can do the same with secondary barriers. A value cannot be placed on human life. We all fundamentally believe this. In this dangerous and unstable world eternal vigilance is the high price we pay for our freedoms.

When I was asked to attend this ceremony, I was told that the doors to the bunker had not been closed since the end of the cold war until September 11th, 2001. I hope and pray they will never need to be closed again.