Cheyenne Mountain backdrops somber Colorado 9/11 Commemoration

By Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs

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PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – More than 700 military members and community leaders from across Colorado Springs joined today to commemorate the attacks of 9/11/2001 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.

U.S. Army General Charles “Chuck” Jacoby Jr., North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command commander, opened the ceremony at the iconic Cold War-era installation by welcoming 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,” Jacoby said. “I’ve long described the bi-national relationship (defined by a treaty between the U.S. and Canada) as a huge competitive advantage. Truly, we know no better friends than our Canadian neighbors.

The Detroit native then introduced the keynote speakers, Canadian Minister of National Defense, The Honourable Robert Nicholson, and 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.  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,” Nicholson, said, explaining how impressive seeing Canadian and American powers working side-by-side to ensure both nations’ freedoms.

The 9/11 Commemoration brought together local 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 the Mountain.

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 today 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 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 securing the skies of North America under “Operation Noble Eagle.” Colorado Springs, as the headquarters of NORAD, is the centerpiece of U.S.-Canadian military partnership and 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.  The crash killed all passengers, crew members and terrorists aboard and bringing the total killed that day to nearly 3,000 people – the deadliest attack historically 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,” Homer said. “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.”