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.