By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2014 – International efforts of the United States to deal effectively and decisively with the scourge of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists is a fitting backdrop to reflections taken on a mountain in Colorado on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, the commander of U.S. Northern Command said today.
President Barack Obama unveiled a plan last night for the United States, along with an international coalition, to defeat the terrorist group.
Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., the commander of the 56-year-old North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, and U.S. Northern Command, established after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spoke this afternoon during the first Colorado Springs Combined Military 9/11 Commemoration at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs.
NORAD is a binational military command formally established in 1958 by the United States and Canada to monitor and defend North American airspace. A maritime warning mission was added in 2006.
Canadian Defense Minster Rob Nicholson also spoke at the event, along with Melodie Homer, widow of United Airlines Flight 93 pilot LeRoy W. Homer Jr.
“As we work to build a coalition to confront the ISIS threat,” Jacoby said in his opening remarks, using an acronym by which the terrorists also are known, “we also reflect on how, on 9/11, America’s friends and allies stood by us shoulder to shoulder, and we can say with certainty that no one has stood by us closer than our Canadian partners.”
Jacoby introduced the Canadian defense minister by noting that Canada is leading the way in the world response to what he called “the latest manifestation of murderous extremist ideology.”
Truly, the general added, “we know no better friends than our Canadian neighbors.”
“Today we remember more than 2,700 Americans, 24 Canadians and more than 350 other victims from around the world who tragically lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001,” Nicholson said. Canadians were shocked at the audacity and cruelty of the attacks and horrified by the invasion of North America, the defense minister added, “a continent we believed was relatively safe and distant from the threat of terrorism.”
The Canadian sense of security was shattered, but NORAD’s reaction was swift, he said. Nearly 200 armed aircraft were deployed into U.S. skies, and all nonessential U.S. air traffic was grounded. Canada responded by receiving 293 flights that were to have landed in the United States until the grounding order came.
“Canadians across the country opened up their hearts and homes to more than 33,000 stranded travelers,” Nicholson said, “offering them shelter, food and comfort. The actions of Canadians that day stand as a powerful example of the Canadian-U.S. relationship.”
U.S.-Canadian defense cooperation grew stronger during years of military engagement in Afghanistan, he added, and by the time Canada withdrew from Afghanistan in March, 40,000 of its men and women had fought there – the largest deployment of Canadian military personnel since World War II.
The two nations also work together to bring peace to the region during Russia’s aggressive military actions and provocation of Ukraine, and as participants in NATO’s reassurance measures to promote security and stability in central and eastern Europe, Nicholson said.
Both nations also work together at home, the defense minister added, intensifying their joint training and exercise regime and making important investments in counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities to better detect, prevent and address potential threats.
“This is why it is especially meaningful to be here at NORAD to mark the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11,” Nicholson said. “Seeing Canadian and American military personnel working side by side at this impressive facility is a testament to the fact that our defense partnership accords us greater security than we could ever achieve alone. We pledge to continue our work to reinforce our joint defense of the continent so that we may never see such a terrible day again.”
A widow remembers
Next, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, introduced Melodie Homer, widow of Leroy W. Homer Jr., first officer of United Airlines Flight 93.
The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the crew and passengers of his flight attempted to overtake four hijackers before crashing into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, rather than its intended target, the U.S. Capitol.
Homer founded the Leroy W. Homer Foundation in 2002 in memory of her husband, a 1987 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The foundation encourages young adults who wish to pursue aviation careers by awarding flight scholarships.
She’s president and founder of the foundation, works as a clinical nursing instructor and has 20 years of nursing experience in the United States and Canada, where she was born.
In her remarks, Homer described the day 13 years ago that her husband of more than three years left for work and never came home. Their daughter was 10 months old.
“To this day, I think it’s hard for us to conceptualize the loss of 2,973 lives,” she said. “Using airplanes as weapons of mass destruction to take innocent lives and destroy symbols of this country’s freedoms was unimaginable.”
Gratitude for protection
Both governments worked quickly, Homer added.
“Homeland Security was created, NORAD was working with the Canadian government to keep the airspace safe for North America, and I say on behalf of both countries, we are grateful for your protection and for keeping us safe for the past 13 years,” she said.
“On occasions such as this we are reminded that we do have to continue to be vigilant,” Homer added. “Those who wish to harm our way of life will never stop trying.”
As Homer finished her remarks, Jacoby stepped forward and presented her with a piece of granite that he described as “blasted from the heart of our beautiful Cheyenne Mountain.” He said the rock “represents the Cold War generation that had the strength and courage to prevail against the threat of that era, and it provides us strength and inspiration to prevail against the threats today.”
Honoring those lost
Sharing his own thoughts, the general said that the 700 U.S. and Canadian service members and state and local leaders were there today first to remember and honor the lives lost on September 11, 2001, “as are millions of others across the country and around the world. We have done that every year, and we’ll always do it, and we always must.”
Jacoby added, “Today as we continue to fight against another ideological extremist terrorist organization, I would argue that remembering how we felt on 9/11, remembering our commitment, has never been more relevant.”
The general said Americans may have lost feelings of invulnerability and innocence but gained things as well.
“We rolled up our sleeves as nations of strong communities and we committed to doing whatever it took to answer the challenges to our safety, to our security and to our pride, like generations before us have done,” he said.
A dangerous world
The world has changed significantly in the 13 years since 9/11 but it remains a very dangerous place, Jacoby added. “You only need to watch the morning news or attend my daily intel brief to know that’s true.”
The faces and locations of extremism have changed but the senseless violence and hatred in its heart has not, he said, “and the families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff are in our thoughts today.”
The free nations of the world are more vulnerable than ever, the general said, “even while our hearts and our spirit remain as they were on Sept. 10, inclined toward peace and cooperation.”
The fights of the last 13 years have been difficult and the challenge remains, but there are more fights ahead, Jacoby added.
“We must look to the inspiration as well as the tragedy of 9/ll to keep us faithful to our values, firm in our commitments and steadfast in our hopes,” he said.