On the morning of September 11th, 2001, LT Heather “Lucky” Penney of the District of Columbia Air National Guard and her squadron mate, Colonel Sasseville, were alerted about two planes that had just flown into the World Trade Center. As a third plane struck the pentagon, reports began circulating that a fourth plane, United Flight 93 out of Newark, New Jersey, was still out there as a threat. Air command speculated it was also headed to D.C. for another strike on the Pentagon, or a strike on the White House, or even the Capitol Building. With no time to load weapons onto their F-16 Fighter Jets, they both took flight, staying low in D. C. airspace in search of Flight 93. Their goal: with no weapons, they were to deliberately crash themselves into and destroy a Boeing 757 passenger aircraft, 7 times the weight of their small jets. Admittedly, it was a suicide “kamikaze” mission.
Once airborne, they agreed upon the plan of attack. Sasseville would head for the 757’s cockpit and Penney would aim for the plane’s tail. As they sped out beyond Andrews Air Force Base, flying low at about 3,000 feet, they could see black, billowing smoke streaming from the Pentagon. Finally, after an hour of desperately searching for flight 93, they received word that the aircraft had crashed landed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
Heather Penney is the true definition of grit. She donned her flight suit knowing full well that it was a suicide mission, but with the intent to prevent more destruction and loss of life of American citizens. This is what it means to serve, that at any time you might be called upon to lay down your life to save others.
Since that day, Heather Penney serve two tours in Iraq, was promoted to Major, retired and currently works for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company. She has had time to reflect on her experience on September 11, 2001—and the bravery of the passengers on Flight 93. “Joining the Air Force, I made a decision with my life and swore an oath to protect and defend my country. But the passengers on flight 93 didn’t, they were just everyday people, mothers, fathers, school teachers, businessmen,” Penney said. “They are the true heroes”.