By Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. — More than 700 military members and community leaders from across Colorado Springs joined together to commemorate 9/11 at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs, Colo. Throughout the previous dozen years, installations across the area have hosted their own, smaller events, but this year they joined for one large ceremony.
Army General Charles ‘Chuck’ Jacoby, North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command commander, opened the ceremony at the iconic Cold War-era installation by welcoming the distinguished visitors and asking the crowd to rise and recognize all of the first responders present.
“Those of you here who were instrumental in fighting the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires,” said Jacoby, “Thank you for being on our front lines here in the community.
“Today, we reflect on 9/11, when America’s friends and allies stood by us shoulder-to-shoulder,” continued the general. “I’ve long described the bi-national relationship as a huge competitive advantage. Truly, we know no better friends than our Canadian neighbors.
The Detroit native then introduced the event’s keynote speakers, Canadian Minister of National Defense, the Honourable Robert Nicholson, and the spouse of United Flight #93’s co-pilot, Melodie Homer.
“It’s a great honor to represent the government and people of Canada at this solemn occasion” said Nicholson from the stage set just to the left of the CMAFS 9/11 Memorial. “Although a decade has passed, there is no doubt that each of us remembers that day as if it was yesterday,” said Nicholson. “We were horrified by the invasion of North America, but the NORAD reaction was swift.”
“This partnership has been recognized around the world for its depth and strength,” said Nicholson who also said it was impressive seeing Canadian and American powers working side-by-side at the impressive mountain complex.
The 9/11 Commemoration brought together personnel from Schriever Air Force Base, Fort Carson, the U.S. Air Force Academy and units from across Peterson Air Force Base including North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command, Air Force Space Command, and the 721st Mission Support Group based at Cheyenne Mountain.
“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation,” said former President George W. Bush in his address to the nation on Sept. 11, 2001. “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”
One of the foundations that developed from the events on Sept. 11, 2001, was the creation of U.S. Northern Command which was established Oct. 1, 2002 to provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts and to coordinate defense support of civil authorities. USNORTHCOM defends America’s homeland — protecting people, national power and freedom of action.
The ceremony was held near the CMAFS 9/11 Memorial — a twisted eight-foot-long, 750 pound steel beam that once helped support one of New York’s World Trade Center Towers. The memorial, donated by the National Homeland Defense Foundation and designed by students from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, serves as a remembrance of those who died that day and to honor the service members who gave their lives in the years since.
Since 9/11, U.S. and Canadian personnel have played a pivotal role in closing and securing the skies of North America under the name Operation Noble Eagle. Colorado Springs, as the headquarters of NORAD, is the centerpiece of U.S.-Canadian friendship and military cooperation. NORAD is a bi-national command responsible for aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning for Canada, Alaska and the continental United States.
There are only a few people who remember that day as well as Melodie Homer who listened and watched in disbelief as a fourth hijacked aircraft, the Boeing 757 her husband co-piloted, crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pa., killing all passengers, crew members, and terrorists on board and bringing the total killed that day to nearly 3,000 people — the deadliest attack on American soil by a foreign entity.
“Leroy and I had been married for three-and-a-half-years and our daughter was about 10 months old,” said Homer. “To this day, it’s hard for me to believe my husband went to work and did not come home.
“Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of other people going through tragedies from that day,” she continued, to include children who lost both parents in the towers and the many family members who took their lives after losing their loved ones.
“We are grateful for your protection and for keeping us safe for the last 13 years,” said Homer. “The world is dealing with so many difficult situations right now, our eternal vigilance is the high price we pay for freedom.”
The somber ceremony caused those in the crowd to reflect on their own stories and to remember where they were on that day. Those stories ranged from young men and women hearing about it while still in grade school to those of community leaders who immediately began measures to help protect those under their watch to those who marched to military recruiters vowing to bring justice to those who caused the heinous acts.
“I was told on the way here today that the blast doors hadn’t been closed since the Cold War, but they were on 9/11 2001,” said Homer. “I hope and pray they will never need to be closed again.”