Written by Phil Cerroni
‘We woke up on 9/12 and we were still Americans’
By Elaine Paniszczyn
During National Aviation Week, Heather ‘Lucky’ Penney spoke to members of the North Texas Commission about her experiences as one of the first combat pilots in the air on 9/11 at the group’s annual luncheon at Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas Sep. 20.
“Airplanes have a soul…and their story is our story,” Penney said. “We are all the legacy of someone who went before us, and more importantly each of us will leave a legacy for those who come after us. For the decade after 9/11, I did not talk about my experience. I really didn’t feel like I had a story to tell. I was just the wingman.
“Like Pearl Harbor, we all have stories of 9/11 … another day that will live in infamy,” Penney said. “From my perspective, there really wasn’t anything special about my experience, especially after all the 24/7 news coverage that followed. So, I remained silent. For all of those who lost their lives, gave their lives, and lost loved ones, I am compelled today to still hold that experience sacred.”
Penney said on the 10 year commemoration of 9/11 she was asked by her flight commander to participate with him in a National Geographic special. She agreed to do it for him. However, she said in the process of telling the story, others were so moved, that she began to realize that her story of 9/11 really is not her story; it is everybody else’s.
“It belongs to all of us,” Penney said.
Her squadron had just gotten back from Red Flag that previous Saturday where they had been deployed for two weeks at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. They just had a skeleton crew and only had three aircraft to put up the morning of 9/11.
“We were cleaning off the jets, and we were going to make them slick, and we were going to go out and do some dogfighting,” Penney said. “It was going to take maintenance crews a while to get that done, so we sent our boys, Lou Shooter Campbell, Eric Haagenson and Billy Hutcheson down to North Carolina.”
Later, she was sitting in a scheduling meeting when somebody knocked on the door and told them an airplane had just flown into the World Trade Center.
“We looked at each other, and we looked outside,” Penney said. “It was a brilliant, crystal-blue morning, and we quizzically gazed across at each other, ‘How could that happen?’ We thought it was a Cessna. Those things bounce off buildings. So we went back to what we were talking about.”
It was not long until another knock at their door revealed another plane had flown into the other building at the World Trade Center.
“We saw what everyone else on that infamous day saw,” Penney said. “And our hearts stopped. What seemed like hours was really only seconds, because at that point in time, we knew what we had to do. The problem was: We couldn’t, because we had no authorization to get airborne.”
Her commanders started making phone calls “trying to push upwards rather than being pulled.”
Penney said the National Guard has two different chains of command. One is the federal chain of command. The other is the civilian chain of command for the D.C. National Guard, which goes up through the Secretary of the Army, to the Vice President, and to the President of the United States.
“Who, as you can imagine, at that time was kind of busy,” Penney said. “So we had no way to be able to get airborne.”
While the three jets in North Carolina were on their way home, the Pentagon was hit, and the FAA began to ground airplanes.
“One of the pilots called in and said that Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center had called asking if he had any missiles or bombs on board. He wanted to know what was going on. He added that the control center did not want to let him in the air space. He was told to not worry about that. ‘Just keep on coming home.’ The others were told to come in as fast as they could without using the afterburner.
“After the Pentagon got hit, that was when we finally had authorization to launch.”
‘Lucky, you’re with me,’ commanded Col. Marc Sasseville. He told the others to wait until they got missiles on board.
“I don’t know why he picked me,” Penney said. “I don’t know if it was because I was a good pilot or a bad one and therefore expendable.”
But the message was clear: The two pilots were not planning to come back – ever.
“Sasseville looked at me and said, ‘I’ll take the cockpit.’ I knew I was going to take the tail. We had seen what had happened, and it was important to minimize the collateral damage on the ground. By ramming the nose and tail of a hijacked plane, I knew the plane would go straight into the ground as opposed to fanning out and be spread.
“People have asked: ‘Who told you that you needed to ram the airplane?’ The fact is, no one did. We just knew what had to be done. We still didn’t have missiles on board. We’re in a training configuration.”
They each had 105 lead-nosed training bullets on board.
Master battery on…throttle up…Sasseville was already taxiing ahead of her as she yelled to her ground crew to pull the chocks.
“I had never been trained for this. As I moved forward, they are still pulling pins out of my gear. As I’m taxiing, I can hear Billy is getting ready to take off,” she said.
And the other planes returning from North Carolina were coming in. When they tried to get weather stats and other information they needed for landing, this is what they heard:
“This is Andrews Air Force Base, Information Bravo. Andrews Air Force Base is closed. Washington class Bravo airspace is closed. Any aircraft attempting to enter Washington class Bravo airspace will be shot down.”
One lands, and the other two were right behind him. They know there is another hijacked plane, but they do not know where it is. One pilot had enough gas remaining to make one pass up and down the Potomac River.
“One pass; that’s it,” he was commanded. “We think another one’s coming down the river, and we think it’s alone.”
“I was hearing this as I was taxiing down the runway, yelling at my crew chief to pull my chocks,” Penney said. “Get the pins out! Strap. Harness. Seat.”
“Billy takes off, and as he does, he makes one pass over the river low, going on up to the northwest over the Potomac. Full AV. Hits Great Falls, turns back around, comes back down the Potomac where he turns left into the Chesapeake, and then he goes back and lands.”
Sasseville and Penney take off right after him.
“I don’t even have a platform,” Penney said. “This is before GPS, and my radar has not finished its blip. We are free and far, Baby, into that beautiful clear crystal-blue day, headed to the northwest. We flew for a while until we were sure we had sanitized the area and that nobody else was coming in.”
Sasseville told her it was time to go back to be sure they were not outflanked by somebody else who might be out there.
“We never found anyone, and of course we all know why. Sasse and I were not heroes that day. The passengers on Flight Number 3 were, as were all first responders, as were all Samaritans who helped each other in the Towers and in the Pentagon. We weren’t the heroes that day; they were.”
A week or two later, the Pentagon was still smoldering, when one of Penney’s squadron, ‘Tuna’, had to be at there. Somebody recognized his patches.
“Are you a D.C. Guard?” he asked, and this is what the man told him…
“When the Pentagon was hit, they obviously began evacuating. They evacuated to South Parking, out the Metro Entrance, and into North Parking, on the other side of a highway. So you have to go over a bridge, over a busy highway to get to North Parking. People were streaming out all of those entrances to get out of the building.
“There’s a Department of Defense Day Care, right at the base of that bridge. Women were wheeling the children and the infants in their six-kid buggies and three babies to a wheeled crib. But they couldn’t get those buggies and cribs up the stairs and over the bridge to get away from the burning building. The smoke from the fires was coming up from the west side of the building, over the day care, over the bridge and into North Parking … and the women are giving babies away, because they couldn’t carry them over the bridge.
“‘Can you take this child? I can’t get them up.’ Everyone knew there was another (hijacked plane) coming in, but they didn’t know more than that. Unlike in a normal crowd where there’s a low roar because everyone is talking, everyone is silent – with fear – with the unknown as the black cloud drifts over them.
“Then all of a sudden Billy goes roaring over them at 200 feet at Max AV, rattling their chests with the strength of that engine, and the crowd erupted in cheers, because they knew that American fighter jets were airborne. We were overhead. We weren’t going to let anyone hurt them. They were going to be okay.
“I was amazed and very humbled at the outpouring of response that followed the tenth commemoration – heartfelt gratitude for what I had been ready to do that day. I’m genuinely surprised by how many expressed amazement that I was willing to give my life without a second thought. I truly believe that what I did that day was not anything special. I believe that any one of us would have done the exact same thing.
“Why?” Penney asked. “Because there are some things in this world that are more important than my soft, pink body: freedom, the Constitution of the United States, our way of life, mom, apple pie, baseball, those things that make us uniquely American. We all want that thing that is greater than ourselves. That something greater is that ‘thing,’ this idea called America. It binds us together in citizenship, community and brotherhood.
“In the days that followed, yes there was grief, but there was also something far more precious. We came together as Americans. It didn’t matter what color you were, what gender, what sexual orientation, what economic bracket. None of that mattered. What mattered was that you were an American. That we are all Americans, and we share a bond of something far greater, far grander than the small differences that are screeched about on television shows. That thing: America and what it means to be American cannot be broken.
“Hitler couldn’t break it; the Soviet Union couldn’t break it; and Al-Qaida couldn’t break it. We woke up on 9/12 and we were still Americans.
Early lesson learned
“I’m drawn back to the story that Tuna told us about the Pentagon: that we were airborne, that they were safe, and they were going to be okay,” Penney said. “We were only the visible tip of that spear, having an accidental place in history from the graces of chance. I am but one of hundreds of thousands who have pledged to defend our country, our constitution, and our way of life. I am not the first, and I am not the last, but what we do is only possible because of you. We aren’t flying those jets; you are.
Behind the scenes
“It begins with industry – the commitment and innovation of companies like those that make up the North Texas Commission – people who understand that there are things in this world that are more important than ourselves,” Penney said. “We are all part of this greater whole – this wonderful thing called America. We’re living history today and shaping tomorrow. Whether you are the ones who are dedicating your lives to inventing game changing technologies, integrating software and sensors to give us that asymmetric advantage, or designing and engineering the airplanes that we strap on every day, or just making sure that pilots like me have the training and equipment we need to go out in ‘Bad Guy Land,’ accomplish our missions successfully and come back home safely. We are all in this together. We can’t do what we do without you.
“Thank you for your service.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 14 October 2012 23:02
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
Bright faces greeted me in the gloom as I approached Lake Carolyn, site of the American Cancer Society’s ‘Making Strides Against Breast Cancer’ 5K walk on Oct. 6.
Two of those faces belonged to James and MacKenzie Fann. A student at Bennett Elementary, MacKenzie is part of her Dad’s team from the McKinney WalMart store.
“This is my first-ever walk,” said James. “All the WalMarts around here are doing a big push to help support breast cancer research.”
Sallie Bowen, volunteering as a crossing guard for the event, had a personal reason for showing up.
“I’m involved because I’m a survivor, almost 12 years,” Bowen said.
“We wondered if the weather and the threat of rain would hold down the numbers,” she continued, looking at the gray skies. “But it’s turning out to be just really great, and more people keep coming.”
ACS organizers hoped that each walker at the event would take about 10,000 steps by the end of the 5K course – bringing the nonprofit 10,000 steps closer to finding a cure. Among the thousands of people seeking to fulfill that promise were countless costumed characters.
An entire energetic team posed for their group photo.
“We’re Black Girls Run!” exclaimed Scymentres Williams. ”It’s a group of African American women with chapters all over the area, including in Irving.
“We probably have about 80 people out here, all walking to support the cause of breast cancer awareness. We thought it would be an excellent idea to actually get out and do this at our monthly get-together.
“We have a lot of women in our group who are survivors, or they’ve been impacted by the disease. We’re out here having fun, but working for a great cause as well.”
Statistics indicate that one woman in eight will develop breast cancer, and nearly 40,000 women in this country will lose their fight this year.
So the ACS team is glad when someone helps them focus attention on the disease. Someone like Brad Turner, perched high atop stilts while wearing a pink tulle tutu.
“I do a lot in Grayson County with the Relay for Life over there,” said Turner, who intended to risk splinters for all of his 10,000 steps. “I got involved with this walk kind of late. Maybe next year I can do even more fundraising for them.”
Waving goodbye to admirers, he coaxed his stilts into a U turn and joined the crowd milling towards the towers of pink balloons that marked the starting line. Another bright face.
Some information provided by the American Cancer Society.
Last Updated on Sunday, 14 October 2012 23:01
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
Many charity golf tournaments raise money for hospitals and organizations, but how many give high speed, low drag equipment directly to the disabled? One organization that does is the AMBUCS, an organization dedicated to helping individuals with ambulatory disabilities. Their signature contribution, the AmTryke, is a hand/foot operated tricycle for those with challenges using their arms and legs. Since the program started in 1988, the Irving chapter has given away over 1800 tricycles free of charge, and this year’s 10th Irving AMBUCS AmTryke Golf Classic at the Great Southwest Golf Club on Oct. 1 was a chance to both support their effort and see children ride their new tricycles for the first time.
By The way, it was a celebrity tournament with local stars such as Blazing Saddle’s Burton Gilliam, former Dallas Cowboy David Buehler and John Rhadigan of Fox Sports Southwest.
Also in attendance was Ali Nugent, Miss Texas USA 2013. She is very supportive of AMBUCS’ mission as exemplary of the intense, widespread spirit of service all around Texas.
“Something the state of Texas represents really well is giving back,” Nugent said. “Every week there is a charity tournament; every week there’s something, every day there’s something. What I’ve noticed about Texas, why I’m so proud the represent it is because there is so much giving back, and everyone cares here.”
Benjamin Landrey was a recipient of a new AmTryke. His mother, Kelley, was more than happy to share his story.
“He was playing baseball, and he fell,” Kelley said. “He had a brain tumor. Within 24 hours he was having a nine and a half hour brain surgery. After the surgery, he was in the hospital for 58 days with over a hundred other days in and out of the hospital.” Landrey continued to expound on Benjamin’s continuing struggle, and although he is living an active lifestyle through activities like Boy Scouts, things like severe hearing loss continues to put him at a disadvantage. “The radiation caused him to lose his eyesight, but we pray that one day it will come back, but we don’t know.”
The winning team at this year’s tournament was headed by AMBUC member Jim Crook. Charities like the AmTryke are particularly close to his heart because of his own family experience.
“I’ve got a nephew who was born with cerebral palsy,” Crook said. “His whole right side was paralyzed, and this young man ended up going to college, got a degree from the University of Florida. If you just give a young person a chance, they have it in their heart – they can just strive. Bad luck comes to all of us.”
Crook spoke passionately about the potential that AmTrykes realize in children.
“These poor young kids were born with bad luck, what they know they can fulfill once they’re on the bike. They know that they’re not limited,” he said.
Charlie Young, the only living charter member of the Irving AMBUCS chapter, talked about where the club has come since he became a member 50 years ago.
“Back then our main focus was scholarships for therapy students,” Young said. “That got started primarily because of Polio back in the 40s and 50s when so many kiddos had Polio. Probably the AmTryke is the biggest change I have seen. The nice thing about it is it’s more touchy feely than scholarships.”
Young explained the role evolving technology has had in shaping the AMBUCS’ outreach.
“People get to see these kids get on a tryke for the first time in their life, and they get a smile this big on them. That has given us more contact with people both adults and children who have disabilities,” he said.
The Am Tryke was conceived in 1987 when a children’s therapist spoke at an AMBUCS lunch in Longview. The therapist said that she needed a tricycle that could be operated with a hand crank for her patients who did not have the use of their legs. Dick Allen took up the challenge and with two tricycles and a welding kit built the first AmTryke in 1988. For the next few years, the Longview AMBUCS built the tricycles in the back of a repair shop and sold them to other chapters until the national organization acquired the rights and, with the help of Western Michigan University, began innovating and expanding the line.
“Back then we only had one size, and now we have them toddlers to adults. We go from diaper to diaper,” chuckled Young. “We test these things for about a year before we put them out. We have an “ambility” committee from all around the country from various clubs (one Irving member is on the board). They come up with ideas, and they engineer it.
Young continued, clarifying the contemporary Am Tryke R&D process.
“Any ideas they come up with they make it and have it tested there with kids. A new tryke will take two to three years in development stage,” he said.
Underneath the fancy technology, good friends, and golf a very simple message and reward remain clear. Benny Newman, a long-time AMBUCS member and veteran golfer bluntly put the event’s priorities in perspective.
“Whoever wins out here is immaterial. It’s the kids. When you see a youngster who can’t walk who can get on a bicycle or a tricycle and become mobile, then it’s all worth it.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 14 October 2012 23:01
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
What is bullying? For students on the playground, it may just seem like a part of growing up; almost a rite of passage. But it’s actually an imbalance of power, just as dangerous for the bully as for the victim.
New legislation goes into effect this fall that impacts every school district in the state, mandating that they address bullying and come up with strategies to identify and curtail it.
“We’ve always had a policy in place that says bullying won’t be tolerated,” said Dr. Pat Franklin of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, reading from her district’s policy manual. “For us, bullying occurs when a student or group of students engages in written or verbal expressions or physical conduct that occurs on school property, at a school-sponsored or related activity, or in a vehicle operated by the district that has, number one, the effect or potential effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student’s property or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm of such damage, or two, is sufficiently severe, persistent and pervasive enough that the action or threat creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment for the student.
“With the new legislative update, our school district has added new verbiage to include electronic expressions, or cyber-bullying.”
CFBISD has made a practice of investigating each complaint to decide whether or not bullying occurred and meting out consequences as needed.
“Now we’ve tightened our policies a lot more,” said Franklin. “We’ve set up a six-step reporting protocol for any student that feels they’ve been bullied or harassed.
“Students are also learning how to report cases where another student may be undergoing this. Whether it’s bullying or some other violent act, depression, date violence, sexual harassment; anything that could possibly be troubling the student.”
In addition, CFBISD middle school and high school students also participate in AnComm, an anonymous reporting process allowing victims to report an incident via text or email.
In Irving ISD, a similar program for reaching out anonymously for help is called ‘Talk About It’, which will go online in October.
“This is an issue that has gotten a lot of attention in the past year,” said Jose Villaseñor with Irving ISD. “We need ways to help not only the victims, but also the students who show aggressive behaviors.
“Working with them, with their parents and their teachers….it has to be a system-wide approach. That’s why we’ve adopted the campaign ‘Not In Our House – Freedom from Bullying’.”
Training sessions were conducted in late September for leadership, for trainers, counselors and administrators.
“That whole week went well,” said Villaseñor. “Everyone was excited about it.
“We also met with student representatives from each high school, members of the Superintendent’s Council. They will help with the rollout on each campus to lay the foundation; talking about what they’re seeing. They were very receptive and shared some great information with us.”
The final step was to engage students’ families. Parent meetings were held Sep. 27 throughout schools in the district to introduce the program (in both English and Spanish) via a simulcast presented by bully specialist Paul Coughlin. The speaker followed with action steps for parents who want to know more about bullying behaviors and how to intervene on their children’s behalf.
“We are bringing consistency to our treatment of bullying,” said Villaseñor. “As trained professionals, maybe we can see and understand that a student is suffering, but what about bus drivers or custodians? They also need to recognize these behaviors and bring it to someone’s attention so we can investigate.
“We want to work with all students to learn both sides of the story. This campaign should also change the climate of how students view social interactions. We want to present an alternative to aggressive behaviors, and to learn why a student is behaving this way.
“Part of our curriculum is based on Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s work, ‘Ascent to Goodness’. He’s done a lot of research on why people behave badly.
“One idea we hope to pursue is that you substitute new behaviors, such as random acts of kindness.
“Because we know this, too - the person who acts as the bully is also in pain.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 14 October 2012 23:00
Written by Phil Cerroni
Doctors have fun raising money for kids despite the rain
By Phil Cerroni
There is no shortage of charity fundraisers in Irving; individuals and groups are always throwing galas or organizing golf tournaments, but how many folks looking to raise money for charity, organize a motorcycle run that includes beer, barbecue and Hooters girls?
That is exactly what Healthcare Associates of Irving did on Sep. 29. In their effort to support the Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation, the Irving based multi-specialty private practice turned the parking lot of their office into a carnival ground with a bounce house, carnival games, a large smoker named Junior, an energetic DJ, silent auction and of course barbecue, bikes and babes.
“We were just looking for a good children’s charity,” said Dr. Mark Anderson, one of the practice’s family medicine physicians and one of the event’s primary organizers. “I ride motorcycles, and I figured if you’re going to have an event and want to have fun, you have to have some motorcycles there.”
Dr. Anderson continued to say that the idea of a motorcycle run for charity was born out of a desire to create an event that would engage the entire community at Healthcare Associates of Irving.
“We wanted to have a charity that Healthcare Associates of Irving could rally behind,” he said. “So last year we started the Hogs and Hearts and tried to have the motorcycle guys come out and then have kids’ games and carnival to appeal to all ages.”
The run was cancelled due to continuous rain all day. Even though Dr. Anderson was expecting a large run, he was not dismayed by the turn of events.
“We expected fifty to one hundred [riders], but the weather wiped us out,” he said. “So we brought the run folks over here and the girls from Hooters, and we’re going to have it all over here underneath the tent.”
Joel Bailleu, The CEO of Healthcare Associates, was also pleased with the blend of activities the event had to offer.
“We try to create a fun, unique experience based around healthcare,” Bailleu said. “We have some wellness things, it’s kind of a kid oriented, but by the same token, we know that people who ride Harleys support kids so it’s a unique mix, it’s a family atmosphere and we have a great time doing it.”
Although the afternoon may have had the atmosphere of a block party, the organization put in a lot of work to ensure that they would be able to raise money for the Educational Foundation.
“We got underwriters to underwrite all the cost setting this up, so at this point, we’re going to try to raise four or five thousand dollars,” said Anderson. “[Last year] we made a donation for $2,500,” he continued proudly.
So if you missed the delicious food or are upset you did not take a shot at any of the signed Cowboys memorabilia at auction, rest assured that these energetic doctors and their staff will definitely be doing it again next year, and it will probably be bigger and wilder than ever before.
Last Updated on Sunday, 14 October 2012 22:59
- Local health fair offers a uniquely extensive battery of services
- Kid Country Park opens on schedule with ribbon cutting
- Coppell Marching Band 3-peats at Mesquite Marching Festival
- Baylor Medical Center at Irving is turning pink
- Coppell employee group receives Carter Bloodcare gold award
- Teens learn about local business