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Transcript: Heather Penney: Lucky

The full episode transcript for Heather Penney: Lucky.


The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg

Heather Penney: Lucky

Chuck Rosenberg: Major Heather Penny, welcome to The Oath.

Heather Penney: Thank you so much for inviting me. As I've said to you before, I'm humbled by the company that I keep on your, on your podcast.

Chuck Rosenberg: Well, we've had some wonderful guests. There's no question about it, but you're every bit is wonderful. So, thanks for joining us.

Heather Penney: Thank you.

Chuck Rosenberg: So tell us where you were born and grew up.

Heather Penney: I'm laughing. You know, in the, in the fighter squadron, "tell us about yourself." So, I was actually born in Arizona on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. My father was an Air Force pilot flying the A-7 at the time, and he was an instructor pilot at Davis-Monthan. But fairly quickly, we moved to Florida as he retrained and transitioned into a liaison aircraft, the [Cessna] O-2. And my first memories are of growing up on Hawaii at Wheeler airbase.

Chuck Rosenberg: And you have a twin sister, don't you, Jill?

Heather Penney: I do. I have a twin sister, although, I always tease her a little bit. I'm "Baby A," because I was the first one out. I'm nine minutes older than her. Obviously, it doesn't matter anymore. It's just an inside family joke. She's Baby B.

Chuck Rosenberg: Right, but that means you're in charge.

Heather Penney: If you knew her personality, no, she's, she is an incredibly strong, intelligent woman. Just an amazing, an amazing leader in her own right.

Chuck Rosenberg: What does she do?

Heather Penney: She is--she has gotten her PhD in psycho linguistics and cognitive psychology, where she investigates how the human brain acquires and processes language.

Chuck Rosenberg: And does she teach or research? Or both?

Heather Penney: She does both. She and her husband and their son live in Seattle.

Chuck Rosenberg: And how about your mom?

Heather Penney: So, both of my parents live in Evergreen, Colorado. After Hawaii, we moved to Stead, Nevada, and actually lived in Reno for quite some time. That's kind of where I consider my growing up really. And then, in high school, we then moved to Denver, Colorado. So that's really where my family has put down roots. So, when I go home to visit my parents, I always go home to Denver. They're up in the mountains now in Evergreen.

Chuck Rosenberg: And when your dad was flying for United, he was based out of Denver, I take it?

Heather Penney: He was based out of both San Francisco and Denver and then back into San Francisco. So, when we were living in Nevada, that was where he was first based, but as unfortunately so many people know now, that airlines is a cyclical business and he experienced a six year furlough. And during that period of time, he then was a test pilot for a company called Lear Fan out at Stead, Nevada. He was recalled to United Airlines shortly before Lear Fan closed for business. And shortly thereafter, we then moved out to Denver, and he was based there, he spent a lot of time as an instructor pilot at the Denver Training Center, and then closed out his airline career flying International.

Chuck Rosenberg: How did you end up in college in Indiana?

Heather Penney: I ended up in college in Indiana, not through any particular act of premeditation. I was actually a terrible procrastinator, and the list of schools that I had on my, on my college wish list--it turned out that Purdue had the latest application date and thank goodness I got in. Otherwise, I'm not--I might still be living in my parent’s basement. But it turned out to be a wonderful thing. I also joke that I was a little bit of a wild teenager. So, I think my parents needed me to cross the state line. But I loved being a Boilermaker, I loved Purdue and it was a it was a fantastic place to begin spreading my wings.

Chuck Rosenberg: So did you first learn to fly at Purdue or earlier than that?

Heather Penney: I learned to fly a little bit in fits and starts. So, my father began giving me flying lessons when I was still in high school. But as he would joke, I was not exactly the ideal student because although I did very well in high school, academics came easily to me. I was also a little bit of a wild child and a little boy crazy too. So I wasn't exactly terribly focused. And so, I did ground school and, and my flying in high school, but I didn't complete my pilot's license until after I completed high school.

Chuck Rosenberg: And were you taking flying lessons because you thought of it as a hobby or as a vocation?

Heather Penney: I never thought about aviation as a vocation, really. It was, it was really just more of a passion. I had grown up surrounded by airplanes and aviation had always been a very strong part of our life. So, I didn't think that I wanted to go into the airlines. I had lived through a six-year furlough on United Airlines. They had also gone through a short strike as well. And those were, as a child, really emotional events for me--just simply in that it made me realize that the airlines were not very stable lifestyle. And so, I had never really had any intention of going and becoming an airline pilot. I just had this passion for aviation. And I also had a passion for fighters. My dad had been a fighter pilot. When we lived in Reno, he'd flown F-4s with the Reno guard. And I just I fell in love with, with the F-4. It was such a fast mean looking jet--I mean that jet meant business. And when I looked at it, I just could feel my adrenaline pumping. My dad often had his squadron mates over to the house for dinner. And after dinner, my sister and my mom would go do the dishes, and I would sneak out and kind of hide in the corner as they smoked cigars and had beers on our back porch. And I'd listen to their stories and that were--they were, they were just the pest adventure stories. They were, they were fun, they were exciting, they were meaningful, and I just I couldn't imagine wanting to do sort of anything else.

Chuck Rosenberg: So, you're an unusual Purdue University English major?

Heather Penney: I am. I became an English major, again, not with malice or forethought. But when I went to Purdue, one of the reasons why the school is on my list is because I believed I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. And they also had ROTC. And to me, that was the, the magic mix that you needed to have to become an Air Force fighter pilot. I don't think there was any ill intent on my dad's side to let me know that girls could not be fighter pilots. I think maybe perhaps in his mind, since, you know, I was a little unfocused, and, you know, non-directional as a teenager, maybe he thought that it was a little bit of a fantasy or a fad, and it might pass. And it--my mother had always told me and my sister that we could be anything we wanted to be. And so, it never ever occurred to me, when I showed up at Purdue to sign into ROTC, that girls could not be fighter pilots. And when I heard that, I actually didn't really have any interest in going any further with ROTC. So, I just went into the holding pool of general engineering. And that was when I also realized as I, as I discovered, I had zero talent at coding computers and software languages, that I probably did not want to be an engineer either. So, the next, you know, the next fall back, then, my, my plan C was English. It was a course that I had enjoyed in high school. And it had come fairly easily to me, so why not? And then, I found myself in the humanities.

Chuck Rosenberg: But there was a time when you literally could not be a fighter pilot because you were a woman?

Heather Penney: That's correct. Only in 1977 did the Air Force even allow women to fly aircraft. And there was a point in time in our military that once a woman became pregnant, she was discharged from the military and barred from service. So, it had never occurred to me again, because my mother had always told my sister and I that we could be anything we wanted to be. And my father never bothered to tell me that girls couldn't be fighter pilots. And I think, perhaps to him, it was sort of obvious. And I don't know why it never occurred to me that I never saw a female fighter pilot at my dad's squadron. It just, for some reason, it was, that was--it just never made me think, "why are there no female role models here for me?" So, by congressional statute, women were barred from combat, the Combat Exclusion. And it wasn't until 1993 that Congress actually changed legislation to allow women to actually enter combat cockpits, and serve as line fighter pilots going to war. Now, the Navy had allowed women to be instructor pilots and fighters. But as instructor pilots, that was all that they could do, they could not actually be used for what they had been trained.

Chuck Rosenberg: So, in your sophomore or junior year at Purdue, a door open that had previously been closed. Now suddenly, you could be a fighter pilot.

Heather Penney: That's correct. But I actually didn't learn that Congress had reversed that legislation until I was in graduate school. So, it was the winter of 1995 that I learned that I could actually now become a fighter pilot. So, I immediately got my application together and began to send my application to fighter units across the United States. To Air National Guard units, by the way,

Chuck Rosenberg: Why Air National Guard units?

Heather Penney: I had actually, I had learned from my father that, unlike the active duty, where it's competitive to get to get a pilot slot, and then once you go to pilot training, you're competing for those fighter cockpits, which may be few and far between, or there might be a glut of them. But it's really, it's not under your control. So, you could be the number one or number two graduate. But if there are not enough fighter, if there's just not the demand, then you would be tracked to the Air Force needs. And I really had no desire to leave fate up to chance. I knew that although it would be even more competitive to get a fighter cockpit from an Air National Guard unit, that as long as I was qualified, as long as I met every requirement, that whatever was sitting on their ramp, is what I would go back to fly. So, I deliberately targeted fighter units in my application process.

Chuck Rosenberg: And you actually got a job with the District of Columbia Air National Guard?

Heather Penney: That's correct. I don't think I had been barely east of the Mississippi. And I went to interview with the DC Air National Guard. And I was one of two selectees that they chose that year. They had over 300 applicants, and of the 10 that they interviewed, I was one of two selected. And I'm just, even to this day, shocked because when I look at the qualifications of the other pilot, Eric Haagenson, he had, he was an ATP and airline transport pilot, he had been on an aerobatic airshow team called the Northern Lights, incredibly gifted, tremendously experienced. And you know, I had my private pilot's certificate and maybe about 200 hours. So, the difference between us was dramatic.

Chuck Rosenberg: Explain for our listeners, Heather, the difference between the Air National Guard and the Air Force and how they work together.

Heather Penney: The Air Force has three components: you have your active duty Air Force, and that's what we see on the recruiting posters and so forth. You also have the Air Force Reserve, which is a part time reserve component, which is similar to the Air National Guard, except that the Air National Guard actually has two chains of command, and during normal peacetime operations, belongs to the governor of the state. So, there's very different statutory chains of authority and of command between the active duty Air Force, the Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard. So, for example, when we have hurricanes, natural disasters, forest fires--governors can activate their national guard to respond to the needs of the states. Obviously, the National Guard allows the governors access to additional resources that can be very important in providing support to civil authorities. But by capturing military talent in the Air National Guard, it also provides a strategic reserve for our active duty. The Air Force Reserve operates in a very similar manner, except that they don't have any specific responsibilities to their state or to their governor, they simply are capturing the experience, the talent that leaves the active component, perhaps before they retire. And so, we still have that strategic reserve, we're able to maintain that surge capacity, the corporate knowledge, and the expertise of those individuals.

Chuck Rosenberg: And because you're in the DC Air National Guard, you don't have a governor?

Heather Penney: That's correct. And our chain of authority does not go to the mayor of DC. There's a federal line of authority for National Guard units, which is only invoked when they're mobilized to deploy for an operation or for some kind of federal requirement. Every National Guard unit, whether or not that's army or Air Force, when they're mobilized, their status goes Title 10. So, there's really no difference between them and an active duty member of our military service. And their chain of command becomes normalized within their service. Then, the civil chain of command, as I said, traditionally goes to the governor. But since we're the DC National Guard, it doesn't go to the mayor, it actually still continues to go to the President. It goes up through the State Department, and then it goes up to the President, but he typically delegates that responsibility to the Secretary of Defense.

Chuck Rosenberg: And by the way, when you refer to "Title 10," you mean Title 10 of the United States Code, which contains the general statutory authorization for the Defense Department.

Heather Penney: Yes, that's correct.

Chuck Rosenberg: So Heather, whether you're active duty Air Force or Air National Guard, which you were, you're still trained in the same way, and by the United States Air Force, and in your case on something called a T-37, a "Tweet." Tell us about that. Where did you do your training? And what is the T-37?

Heather Penney: I did my training in Wichita Falls, Texas, which is this tiny little town just on the, on the south side of the Red River. I mean, if you sneezed, you'd fall into Oklahoma. And the base there, Sheppard Air Force Base is where we conduct Euro-NATO joint jet pilot training. It's a program where we bring in pilot candidates from our NATO allies, and we train them alongside and integrated with Air Force pilots, pilots, student pilots. What's unique about Euro-NATO joint jet pilot training is that it's very fighter focused. So, anyone who attends and graduates from what we call "ENJJPT," Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training--in the military, we love our acronyms. Anyone who graduates from that will go on to the combat Air Forces. So the T-37--I'm laughing because it was such a loud little dog whistle. It was a--our nickname for it was the "Tweet." But it did. It sounded like a dog whistle because you had these antiquated engines that when they, they spooled up, it created this high pitch whine that would nearly bust your eardrums if you didn't have the appropriate hearing protection in. And it was actually the T-37 was the same jet that my father learned how to fly in. It's been around since the late 50s. We no longer have the T-37 in the Air Force inventories, it's moved on to the Texan II, the T-6. So, I was--I'm actually really grateful that I had the opportunity to fly the T-37. But it was not an easy airplane to fly. Well, I'll take that back. The T-37 was a very easy airplane to fly, but it was not always an easy airplane to learn how to become a pilot.

Chuck Rosenberg: You were among the first women ever to fly fighters for the Air Force or for the Air National Guard?

Heather Penney: That's correct. I was not the first, but the first woman to fly fighters--that was Jeannie Leavitt in the F-15, Martha McSally in the A-10, and Sharon Pressler--callsign, Betty--for the F-16.

Chuck Rosenberg: But you were the only woman in your Air Force undergraduate pilot training class?

Heather Penney: I was. And it could be kind of lonely being the only woman in my class. There were few other women there at ENJJPT. There was one woman who was instructor pilot, but she was not in my flight, So I never flew with her. And there was one other woman who was several classes ahead of me, who actually, she and I are still very, very good friends. And speaking of first, Christine Callahan, now Christine Mau, was the first female F-35 pilot. And she was that, that girl ahead of me in pilot training.

Chuck Rosenberg: Speaking of pilot training, you're graded and tested on lots and lots of different things. One of the things you struggled with, and I think it's always important to talk about struggles, even though you're--you've had an enormously successful career, one of the struggles was on flying what's called a "fix to fix." And I was hoping you could explain what that was, and tell us what happened.

Heather Penney: I'm laughing in embarrassment because as much as I love flying the T-37, it was such a joy--it actually was a joy to fly. It was a nimble little airplane, it was so much fun to spin. But, I simply could not get out of my own way in terms of how to learn how to fly instruments in that airplane. For those who are familiar with instrument flying, there's a particular scan that you're taught, as you look at the individual instruments, the artificial horizon, which tells you are you straight up? Are you in a bank? Are you nose high? Are you nose low? The altimeter that tells you your altitude, your vertical speed indicator, are you climbing? You know, what rate are you climbing? What rate? Are you descending? The Compass Card or directional gyro--are you north, south, east, west? There are all of these instruments, including the radio navigation aids that we have, that as you look at the discrete information, each one of those instruments tells you, you'll use it in your own mind to understand where you are three dimensionally in space on the map, and what your aircraft is actually doing as well. And I could somewhat grasp that. The cross check was really challenging for me. You know, if you looked at the instrument panel for the T-37, it looked almost as if some engineer had just puked out instruments and then wire them up where they were, they--there was almost, there was no logical rhyme or reason as to why they were there. So, the cross check was difficult. It was, it was, I found it challenging to do that mental fusion of where I was in space to understand what the navigation instruments were telling me. And the "fix to fix" was the most difficult one of those skills--and at the time--because we did not have, you know, we did, we're not so reliant on GPS, one of the more essential skills that we had to master.

Chuck Rosenberg: What does it mean to fly fix to fix?

Heather Penney: The fix to fix just simply means you're flying from one point in space to another point in space. But those points aren't necessarily on top of a radio navigation aid, which would make it really easy because then you just point in the direction of the signal. Instead, with a fix to fix, you might be some radio and some distance away from your reference navigation aid. So, it required you to not only understand where you were in space, but then to forecast where this other point was using the information from your instruments. And it was that forecasting piece that was so hard for me to understand, and difficult to begin to integrate.

Chuck Rosenberg: We all have things we struggle with, Heather. You struggled with that. In fact, as you wrote in an article for Air and Space Magazine, you "hooked" it, you "tacoed" it, you flunked that aspect of your flight training. I had never heard the phrase "tacoed" before. But I think I know what it means.

Heather Penney: Yeah, we use the word "taco" because the actual grade you received was an "unsat," which was indicated by a "U" you know, on top of your grade sheet. So if you've ever looked at a at a hard taco shell, it looks like a U. And so that's why we called it a taco. I think also, the Tex Mex flavor of being in Texas was part of it, but it seems to be a fairly universal term. But that must have been

Chuck Rosenberg: But that must have been tough for somebody who was a good student and who had succeeded and who had landed a coveted spot with the DC Air National Guard. That must have been a tough thing for you to confront.

Heather Penney: It was very difficult for me to deal with, not just failing, but what felt to me like flailing. I was working so hard and not making any kind of headway on my own. And I had been--academics had come naturally to me in high school and had come naturally to me in college. And I'd never had to try too hard to succeed. And so, this was a wholly new challenge. And coupled with the fact that pilot training is highly competitive, even though everyone in my pilot training, everyone in my flight, everyone in my class would go into a fighter aircraft. So we didn't have to worry about that kind of competition. There was still always the jockeying to be number one in the class. And at this point, I clearly was not. That was very difficult for me to deal with. And then you layer on top of that the fact that I was the only girl, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to perform. And I wasn't.

Chuck Rosenberg: You said your male colleagues were wonderful, they rallied around you and they helped pick you up. Obviously, you had to do it on your own. But it's nice to have support.

Heather Penney: It was something that I actually had not expected. And I did not feel like I could reach out for. Being the only woman, I felt like I had to prove myself. And as it turns out, that was my own mental block. The guys in my, in my pilot training class, as far as they were concerned, we were all in this together. And I really have to be grateful to them, because at this point, they could see that I was flailing. And one of them, Ajax came up to me. And he's like, "Hey, hey, Skippy." At the time, my callsign was Skippy. "That ride didn't go too well, did it?" "No." "You got some time this afternoon? Let's go and see if we can, you know, scam, one of the simulators." And so, it was through the support of my bros in my flight, that--they sat down with me, they tried their best to explain how they understood their fix to fixes and, and the techniques that they did, and they, you know, helped guide me through the simulator, operate the sim. I mean, there was no real point in time that I had this "a-ha" moment, and suddenly instruments were super easy. It was just simply this, this brute force of repetition and incremental improvement, and really learning through, through doing over and over and over again, and their support and their patience, that I was able to pass my next ride.

Chuck Rosenberg: So, I have to ask: how in the world did you become "Skippy?" Because Heather Lucky Penney seems like the perfect callsign, "Lucky," if your last name is Penny. So how did you become Skippy first?

Heather Penney: No one gets to choose their callsign. Your callsign is given to you. And it's normally a play on your last name. It could be some kind of acronym from a story. Or it could be an act of buffoonery that you committed. And I'm not at liberty to explain the Skippy story, other than to say that it was less than 10% true. But it stuck.

Chuck Rosenberg: It eventually became Lucky, though.

Heather Penney: I eventually became Lucky. And again, it's--you, you earn your call sign after you've achieved certain rites of passage. So, in pilot training, that first initial rite of passage was soloing the Tweet, you successfully solo the Tweet, then we could recognize you by giving you a call sign. And then in the combat community, once you earn your initial combat mission ready status, and you were a full up go to war round, is when we acknowledge you as one of the team, and you receive your callsign.

Chuck Rosenberg: Obviously, you ultimately passed the fix to fix requirements. You graduated from flight training, you became an F-16 pilot, but it's not by accident. It requires a ton of really hard work and dedication, and you tell a story about practicing in your chair, in your apartment, chair flying. And I just want you to describe that because it's a wonderfully evocative scene, I think Heather.

Heather Penney: I chair flew all through pilot training, I chair flew all through my F-16 training and I chair flew well after that, even after I was a combat mission ready pilot. So, chair flying is literally you get a big poster of your cockpit, and you tape it to your wall, and then you take a kitchen stool or a chair and you sit that down in front of the cockpit. And you get a plunger, like a toilet plunger, and you put it in between your legs. And you go through all of the procedures, all of the checklists, every radio call, and you train your eyeballs to look at the instruments that you would be looking at that point in time, you move the plunger around as if it were actually the stick that you were using. Later on, when we, when I progressed into the F-16 and we had the buttons and the knobs on our throttles and on our stick that we would use for our hands on stick and throttle system, the HOTAS, to control our instruments and our weapon systems, I would actually physically move my fingers as if there were buttons underneath them, visualizing not just what I needed to do what I needed to say, where other members of the flight were, what we were doing tactically, what I expected my instruments to look like to show as I went through my checklist, going through the checklist, learning what was, what we call a critical action procedure, or a memory item, or a boldface, things that you need to know by heart and never mistake because time is so critical. All of these things no matter if it was a single side offset intercept that we were doing, or if I was practicing emergency procedures, or if I was practicing my fix to fix--these were all things that we could do. And that I did do over and over by chair flying. And it looks like you're crazy man sitting in your chair staring at a wall with a thunder between your legs. But what we were doing was developing the muscle memory, the mental memory, the repetitions, right? We--everyone knows you need reps to achieve mastery. That's what chair flying was about: training your mind.

Chuck Rosenberg: And it worked. Because on your next test flight, with a different instructor, you successfully flew your fix to fix.

Heather Penney: That's right, I did successfully fly my fix to fix. And it was a white-knuckle experience that I wasn't sure how well this was going to work out, but it did.

Chuck Rosenberg: It wasn't just a white-knuckle experience, though. You also wrote that it was one of the most profound experiences of your training. What did you mean by that?

Heather Penney: What was profound to me was twofold: one, was learning how to fail and get back up again. That anything we truly love, are passionate about, we take personally because we're highly invested in it. So, failure was something that I took really personally and I had to get over my ego. I had to get over myself and accept that I had failed and that I had to grow. So, that was one piece. The other thing that I learned was that we're never alone. I didn't have to go through and struggle by myself and actually, by reaching out to my bros--and in reality, they reached out to me--that together as a team, is how we truly become successful, how we overcome those challenges. And so, that really was a formative experience to me that we're all in this together. And that as a team, are far more effective.

Chuck Rosenberg: Heather, having graduated from flight training, in Wichita Falls, you're now back with your DC Air National Guard unit, you're flying out of Andrews Air Force Base, you're the only woman in your fighter squadron in the DC Air National Guard, just as you were the only woman in your class at undergraduate pilot training. Tell us about that experience? And did you enjoy being part of the DC Air National Guard?

Heather Penney: I loved my Guard unit. I had no idea who they were when they hired me. And I had no idea, really, kind of what these people were about when I showed up. Because they're basically hiring me off the street, unlike some guardians, where you kind of grow up in the unit because you enlist and so everyone knows each other, all of these individuals were brand new to me, and some were fantastic. Some were waiting to see how this girl thing was going to work out. And I'll be honest, there were a couple that were absolutely against having a female fighter pilot. And it was a different experience than what I had had in pilot training. And then at my F-16. School, because there, it was really just about grades, we were all in this together. But now, being in the fighter squadron, it was, I was surprised, and not well prepared to find that there were individuals that were not willing to really kind of accept me into the unit.

Chuck Rosenberg: How do you manage that? Or is it their problem and not yours?

Heather Penney: So, it was again, very much like, like my story from the fix to fix. I don't think I managed it very well. But it was the result of my bros, again, the other fighter pilots in my Squadron, that I think really were critical to that cultural transformation. And I had no problem proving myself, I had no problem with spending hours in the vault, and having to perform at 150% because I wanted to be the best fighter pilot that I could be anyways. And I always say that the jet doesn't care, and doesn't even know whether or not you're a man or woman. It just cares--do you know your stuff? Do you fly well? Do you have the right stuff? But the squadron is fundamentally about interpersonal dynamics. And as I was entering the unit, as a woman, as a female fighter pilot, I was disrupting some of those dynamics as far as some of the guys were concerned. As I said, some were cool with it. They just, you know, brand new Lieutenant, fantastic. Others were kind of waiting to see how, how I would perform, would I actually be a decent fighter pilot. And over time, my performance, I think won them out. And the cultural transformation was realizing that what matters about being a fighter pilot isn't some of the macho stuff that you can, you can imagine are parts and pieces of the of the fighter pilot machismo, but it was really fundamentally about professionalism, skill, and mastery.

Chuck Rosenberg: Not only could you fly, you were really, really good at it.

Heather Penney: Yes. That's what ultimately matters. And I, as I look back on it now, I call it a "mission purposed culture," is I look back on my experience, and as I said, I'm not sure that I handled it all that well, I'm not sure that some of the guys handled it that well, and together, we all figured it out. What ultimately was the most important piece of finding that accommodation that allowed us to have high performance and highest spree decor was realizing that what ultimately mattered in our squadron was that we were focused on the mission. And those norms, behaviors, and beliefs that we needed to accomplish the mission, whether or not that was bombs on target, whether or not that was defending our lane, doing offensive counter air, whether or not that was good hunting. It was whatever we were doing, those pieces of our culture and our beliefs and our normative behaviors, that support mission accomplishment is what's relevant. You know, because, and I think it's an important piece to talk about and really consider: groups need to have common ground to function. And that common ground is expressed in culture. We need to know that the other people in our group believe the same things that we do, value the same things that we do, are going to behave in certain expected ways. And that creates trust. And you need to have that kind of trust, especially when you're doing the high stakes kinds of things like flying fighters. So when I entered the fighter squadron, and it was kind of this macho atmosphere, I was fundamentally disrupting what that culture was. And so it was a reset of understanding what are the things that we need to be successful. And I'll give you an example. One of our codes, is the debriefing. In the fighter world, we are absolutely zealous about our debriefing, because that's where the real, real lessons learned. So when you go into the debriefing room, rank stays outside, it comes off the shoulders, it stays outside, the flight lead, or the instructor pilot, whoever stands standing at the board with the markers and the pens, they're the ones that are going through the deconstruction of the entire mission from every stage of mission planning and mission materials, what papers did we take out? Did we step at the right time? What do we sound like on the radios? All the sort of the little stuff, and it builds up to the entire mission. And what we're trying to do is derive lessons learned--how can we improve next time? If there are execution errors, if there are, if there's a lack of knowledge, if there was a bad game plan, we all need to be brutally honest. And we all have to be willing to own where we make mistakes, own where we have errors, not make excuses, not try to explain stuff away, but really own up. Because only when you own your errors on your failures and take responsibility, can you be empowered to make a difference next time to improve. And so that kind of brutal honesty, that kind of egalitarian, it doesn't matter if you're a higher rank than I am in the debrief, if you screwed up, you have to own it, and I have to have the authority to be able to debrief you on that. You know, that's an example. The real aggressive responsibility for when we screw up. That's another code that we have in the fighter world. Because if I can't trust you to own when you make a mistake, in the debrief room here in the training world, you know, what consequences will that be like when we go out in actual combat. So those are examples of, of codes and behaviors that we expect in the in the fighter world, and that culture, any group's culture, needs to be wholly focused on what those value sets are, what those behaviors are, what those beliefs are, that then enable you to be successful in your mission. I really, truly believe that that is why my unit was able to achieve that kind of cultural transformation. Because in the end, they realized that I shared those same values and beliefs that they did, about excellence, about performance, about responsibility and integrity and culpability. And that, that ultimately was more important than, than their concerns about me being disruptive about being a girl.

Chuck Rosenberg: Thank you for that. I think that's just a great, great explanation.

Heather Penney: I think the value of group culture, and making it a mission purposed culture, is that it actually then creates a space for not only the shared values, and the trust, and the esprit de corps and the high-performance elements that teams need. But it actually creates a space for inclusion, because you can be anything else--in my case, a girl, and it doesn't deny me the opportunity to still contribute in a positive way to the group.

Chuck Rosenberg: Right, but not because you're a woman, because you're a damn good F-16 fighter pilot.

Heather Penney: Exactly. And when you get that kind of culture creep, where it's no longer really focused on the mission, that's when we you begin to see groupthink, when you begin to see homogeny, when you when you see performance actually go down because you're not focused on the right things. You're focused on things that actually distract you from, from doing your job and accomplishing your job. And it was interesting because there were a couple experiences that I had, which demonstrated that to me pretty profoundly. One was we were in a mass briefing for the morning, and we'd had some new lieutenants and I'd been in the squadron for quite some time. It, you know, I had, we were all one big happy family for the most part. But this young lieutenant, as he was briefing that morning go, he's talking about the weather and the range and the schedule on who's going to fly with who and where they're, where they're going to fly. And in between each PowerPoint slide was a slide of some pretty hardcore porn. And I'm the only girl in the room. And some of the guys are hootin’ and hollerin’, whatever. And at the end of the briefing, as we were starting to break, I said, "Hey, Lieutenant, good job. That was the best briefing ever." Because as the only woman, even though I had been in the squadron for years, by then, I was still at a, in a position where I felt like I could not speak up because I did not want to, I wanted to be accepted as a fighter pilot, not because I had any kind of agenda, and the hooting and hollering that I heard in the briefing room, I kind of felt like, well, I guess I need to go along to get along. And this will just wait, whatever it'll just kind of, I just need to let this roll off my back. This isn't that big of a deal. And my squadron commander who was flying that day, so he was in the mass briefing room, he stood up, he said, "Nobody leave the room, sit back down. And Lieutenant, by the way, I need to see you in my office when we're done. That kind of behavior is unacceptable. It has nothing to do with our missions today. And I expect to never see that again." And then, as we began to actually break and go into our briefings, he walked in, he goes, "Hey, lucky, that was inappropriate, uncalled for, unrelated to what we're doing." And "I'm sorry, you'll never see that again." Now, the lieutenant, it was just stupid Lieutenant tricks, he really didn't know any better. And it was certainly was not malicious. He had been exposed to that at some point in time, and thought that it would be cool and earn him social cash, right. But what was important was that as our commander, not only did he have the authority, but he was an incredible leader, he was an incredible fighter pilot, a great tactician, he actually had the bona fides of stand up and say, "That's not appropriate." Whereas I really didn't. And so, it demonstrated to me that I was not the only one who realized the connection between the mission creep, or the culture creep, and what our mission actually was. Later that week, a couple, I'd say about three of the other guys were sitting in the briefing room that day came up to me and said, "Hey, lucky, I'm really sorry about that. But I'll tell you what, I am so glad that the boss said something. Because I was really uncomfortable with it." And so, it showed me while there were individuals that were uncomfortable with what was going on, they felt like they too had to go along and get along. So when we when we refocus our culture, on our mission purpose, it actually creates a space for more people to fully commit themselves to the group and to our mission.

Chuck Rosenberg: Heather, you said you didn't think it was malicious? I take that to mean you didn't think it was sort of designed or aimed at you?

Heather Penney: Oh, by no means was it, was this Lieutenant trying to harass me or target or target me or try to make me feel bad. He was a good kid. I say that was because he's, you know, he's not a lieutenant anymore. He's, he's a he's a great guy who's gone on to do wonderful things. And in our interactions, I never had the sense that he was biased, or held any kind of resentment, that as a woman, I was in the squadron. I truly think he was just trying to fit in, be cool, and have fun. And I think he probably thought it was a morale boost. It was certainly not something that would have been worth any kind of ID complaint. Because like I said, there wasn't any mal intent. It wasn't targeted at me. If it had begun to spread and be and embed itself within the culture, then that would have been a different scenario.

Chuck Rosenberg: Heather, I wanted to talk to you about a particular mission. You're a young and relatively new lieutenant in the DC Air National Guard on September 11th, 2001. I want to take you back to that morning. When did you learn that an airplane had struck the World Trade Center?

Heather Penney: We learned that a plane flew into a world trade center as I was sitting in a scheduling meeting that morning with our Director of Operations Marc Sasseville, some of our schedulers, our scheduler, or weapons officer, Dan Caine, and we learned of it because one of our enlisted troops, Dave Callahan, knocked on the door, opened up the door, and said, "a plane just hit the World Trade Center." And that was all he said, we didn't have a television. He didn't give us any additional information. So, we actually just made the assumption that it was a small little Cessna, that it was a light general aviation aircraft that had flown into one of these massive skyscrapers and bounced off and hit the street below. We just simply did not understand yet the magnitude of what had happened.

Chuck Rosenberg: When did you understand the magnitude?

Heather Penney: When Dave Callahan came back and said, "another aircraft hit the other world trade center, it was on purpose." We all got up and went into the squadron bar where the television was. And that was when we first saw the video. That was when we realized this was no tour operation that had made a wrong turn, this was an attack on our nation.

Chuck Rosenberg: What is the DC Air National Guard do at a moment like that?

Heather Penney: Unfortunately, there was not a lot that the DC Air National Guard could do at that moment because although we knew that we were now in a state of war, that we had to get airborne, that we had to protect our nation's capital, we did not have the authority to take off. We did not have the authority to launch and we were not an alert squadron.

Chuck Rosenberg: What do you mean by that?

Heather Penney: Yeah, you know, so, in the height of the Cold War, America lived under the threat of Soviet bombers flying across the northern pole, flying over the oceans, and dropping nuclear weapons on our home soil. So, we had fighter alert units ringing our coastlines, and scattered across our interior, to intercept, respond, intercept and prevent bombers from being able to get into our airspace. After the Soviet Union fell in 1991, and we cut the Air Force in half, literally, all of those alert responsibilities went away because, as you'll recall, we lived in a, in a post history, right? You know, there was, was a flat earth, there was there we were a unipolar power, there was no threat to the United States. And so, we didn't have to have that kind of vigilance. So while at one point in time, the DC National Guard had alert component, jets that were loaded up with real live missiles and ready to take off in a moment's notice--that no longer existed. And on the morning of 9/11, there were five units in the United States that sat alert: Portland, Oregon, Fresno, California, Jacksonville, Florida, there was a detachment from Duluth, a guard, the Duluth guard had a detachment at Langley, Virginia, and then Otis, Massachusetts, they had that New York order, those were the only units that could respond. And because we lacked imagination, when the red button went off for them, when their alert horns went off, they gotten their jets, and they flew, what they were supposed to fly: pre-scripted flight plans out over the ocean. So, as the DC guard, we knew we needed to get airborne, but we were not on active duty status and we didn't have a governor. The mayor is not in our chain of command. We need to get authorization from the president, but he's pretty busy. And the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, who typically has the delegated command authority for the DC guard, you can imagine that they were pretty busy too. So we were desperately trying to find someone who could pick up the phone, and who had the appropriate authority to allow us to get airborne.

Chuck Rosenberg: Who did that turn out to be?

Heather Penney: We actually got the authorization from Vice President Cheney, but it wasn't until after the Pentagon was hit. As a young lieutenant, you know, my job was--I wasn't trying to work the phones and work the chain of command--my job was to go flight plan and make sure we had our takeoff and landing data cards and do we have the right maps and make sure that we had our, we have these data transfer cartridges, we call them DTCs. They're the size of a brick, and it's how we program our fighters, how we program the F-16. And after that, I was just hawking the operations counter watching what was going on. We had several different efforts to try to get that authorization. And again, I'm just, I'm just a young green observer. I've I haven't even been at the unit for a year. I just received my combat mission ready status five months prior. So, our Wing Commander, David Worley, had come down from the wing building, and he's actually trying to work our formal chain of command through the air adjutant, our Commanding General, and trying to work up our formal chain of command that way. Marc Sasseville, who was our Director of Operations, was calling over to the tower, air traffic control, to our, to our tower on Andrews Air Force Base, to see whether or not they had a different phone number, so that we could shortcut our chain of authority and go directly to the President, could we get authorization that way. And the reason why he was calling the Andrews tower was that air force one lives on Andrews Air Force Base. And anytime Air Force One moves, whether or not they're taxing, they're coming into land, or they're taking off, the Secret Service owns the airfield. And they control all aircraft movements. And I had actually had to divert once into Patuxent Naval Air Station, because I had gotten so low on gas I needed to land and Air Force One had not yet released the airfield. So, it was--this was a challenge for us, because we fly little fighter jets that don't carry a lot of fuel, but they burn it up really quickly. And so, having that kind of ramp freeze, or takeoff and landing freeze, really interfered with our training operations. So, we had already established a relationship with the Secret Service to try to work through how we could still continue our training operations and meet the security requirements of their detail. So we knew that there were Secret Service guys, we knew that they had a direct line like they were in touch with the President. They were part of, of that enterprise. So, was there any way that by calling Andrews control tower that they had a phone number to the secret service that could somehow get us to the president to get that kind of authorization? As it turned out, after the Pentagon was hit, Vice President Cheney, who is still here in the DC area, said, "aren't there fighters at Andrews? Somebody get them airborne." And that's how the call came through was from the Secret Service to us.

Chuck Rosenberg: And you had your authorization to launch?

Heather Penney: That's correct.

Chuck Rosenberg: What happened next?

Heather Penney: Well, we did not have weapons. That's the other part of the story about not being an alert squadron. You know, not only did the National Security enterprise not really realize that they had fighter assets there at Andrews. We didn't have any live missiles, we were not configured for any kind of alert mission. And in 2001, we didn't even have GPS on these aircraft. We had just recently gotten this high-tech gizmo called Ring Laser Gyro Inertial Navigation System. And instead of taking 20 minutes for these gyroscopes to spin up to be your navigation platform, it only took them eight minutes. So, while General Worley and Marc Sasseville were trying to get us that authorization to launch, the other problem we had to solve was how to arm the jets because our normal training configuration certainly was not set up for that. We don't fly around with live weapons on board. I don't think the American public would feel really good knowing that they've got 2000 bombs flying over their craniums on a daily basis, right? We fly around with captive training missiles, they can't even leave the wings. They've got the seeker and the information and they're plugged in for our training purposes, but there's no rocket motor there's no explosive, it's a dud round that's bolted to the jet. Even our training bombs when we fly around, they're these little 33-pound concrete shapes with a small white phosphorus charge, and so, so we do our, we do our best to be able to complete our training objectives and still make sure that we're being safe as we're flying around so we didn't have anything like that. So, Dan "Razin" Caine, he was our weapons officer at the time, had actually, with the, with the consent of, of "Sass" and of General Worley had called down to our bomb dump, to get those guys to start building up live weapons. And I imagine like what it had to be like to be on the other end of the phone call when Raisin picks up the phone, right? Because we're not in bad guy land. We're sitting here at home. Those guys didn't have a television down there. I mean, who knows what they saw. So, racing calls down and says, "you know, hey, guys, I need you to build up an AIM-9," which is our heat seeking missile. "And I need you to put real motors on it, real fins, real explosives, real fuses, it needs to be a full up, go to war round."

Chuck Rosenberg: How long would that take?

Heather Penney: Too long. We would not get those missiles in time.

Chuck Rosenberg: Now at this time, Heather, both towers of the World Trade Center by that time had been hit, the Pentagon had been hit. And there's a hijacked airliner heading for Washington, DC, your job is to protect the airspace above Washington. You have to get up in the air, you now have authorization. But your planes are not armed?

Heather Penney: Well, because we did not have any weapons on board, the only way that we would be able to protect our nation's capital, once we found the hijacked airliner, would be to ram our jets into the airliner. This would be a suicide Kamikaze mission. Our normal training configuration as I said, we did not carry live missiles, we did not carry real bombs, we did actually have 105 rounds of lead nose bullets. So between the two of us, we actually had 210 rounds of inner bullets,

Chuck Rosenberg: Who were the two of you?

Heather Penney: Marc Sasseville and I, and "Sass," of course, was our Director of Operations and a damn good fighter pilot. But between the two of us, even that 210 rounds of bullets would not be sufficient to disable an airliner.

Chuck Rosenberg: Were you the first two from the DC Air National Guard up in the air that day?

Heather Penney: No, we weren't. We had, in that morning, had sent a three ship of aircraft down to the Dare County ranges, to Air Force Dare, restricted area 5314 in North Carolina, just inside the Outer Banks. That was the “Bully” flight. Bully one was Lou "Shooter" Campbell. Bully two was Eric "Puck" Haagenson. So the other pilot on my selection board, and then Billy Hutchison, and they were they were going down there to go do basic surface attack, where we fly these rectangular patterns, kind of like a kiddie car ride. And as you come down the chute, you dive down the chute towards the bomb circle, which literally looks like a big bullseye to drop your little 33-pound bomb. And then after we're--after you've dropped all six of your little practice bombs and you do some strafing against the ground rag, and then you come home. Puck had actually been going out early, so he had tapped his afterburner, maybe a little bit too much and had come home before the other two, or at least started to fly and route back to Andrews Air Force Base. While bully one and bully three shooter and Billy continued their mission, there at Air Force Dare. I remember standing at the ops desk when Puck called in, and Phil Thompson, his callsign was "Dog," and he had gone to weapons school, he had flown the F-4 before he transitioned to the F-16. And he had this big fluffy Vietnam era kind of mustache. He was a hard man, but he was just a damn good fighter pilot and I just, I idolized him. He was our supervisor of flying that day. So, when Puck calls in, Dog picks up the radio and Puck calls and he goes, and dog picks up and goes "only two guards off goes." "Washington center doesn't want to let me back into the airspace. What's going on?" And Dog says to Puck: "Don't you worry about that you just keep you just keep coming in." So, dog picks up the phone calls Potomac TRACON, “no no bully to is one of our guys.” Obviously, we need everyone back home so they let him in. And a couple minutes later, Puck calls back in again. "Guards off, Bully two, Bully two, guards off go. ATC's asking me if I've got any missiles or bombs on my on my airplane. What's going on?" And Puck says: "Don't you worry about that. You just you just come home and you land." So Puck comes home, he lands, he taxis in, and that's about when we're starting to really, you know, when "Sass" and I get the call that we've been authorized to launch. In the meantime, Dog had also called down to the Dare County Rangers and told them to send the Bullies home and tell them to “buster,” which means "come home as fast as you possibly can." So, they're coming home at V-MIL, which is 100% power on the engine without tapping any afterburner. And they come in, they land, just as Sass I are running out to our jets. We knew at that point in time because of the work that David McNulty and our Intel shop had done, David McNulty was our Intel officer, his callsign was "Nuts," And he was one of the most brilliant people that I've ever met. He had been actually calling and working with the airlines and, and the individual airports, and also air traffic control to begin to track, you know, who had landed where they had landed, and so forth. Because the FAA was already beginning to ground all the jets. And at that point in time, we still believed that there were three airliners in the DC region, but there was one particular airliner that had gone off the radar and we believe was inbound. So as, as Lou, "Shooter" Campbell, and Billy Hutchison land, we've just gotten the authorization to launch. Dog calls out to find out how much fuel Shooter has and Shooter has like no gas. And Billy had, I don't know, maybe 800 pounds, really not that much. But he's got just enough that the dog says, okay, we need to just take off we, we think there's another one coming down the river, but you just go over the river because you don't have that much fuel. So, on my tapes, you actually hear dogs say, you know, they think there's another one coming down the river, as I'm taxing on my tapes, and Billy takes off and he goes up the Potomac, you know, flies over the Pentagon, goes up to Great Falls, comes back down, and then hooks left where the Potomac turns East into the Chesapeake and then he comes back in and he lands. And Sass and I are taking off seconds after him. So, Billy really was the first person airborne, in response to that day, flying over the Pentagon,

Chuck Rosenberg: As you and Sass are going to your plains to launch, tell me about the conversation between the two of you on the plan or the pact that you made.

Heather Penney: We already knew that if we did not have missiles on our jets, that the only way to take down an airliner would be to ram it. When we got the authorization and we ran down the hall and down the stairs into life support, which is the locker room where our life support technicians take care of all of our, all of our flight gear from our G-suits to our helmets and pack our parachutes and so forth. Sass's locker was just three down from mine. And I'm trying to go through "Okay, don't forget anything. Okay, got my helmet, I got my lineup card, I got my DTC, I've got my harness," and I was zipping up my G-suit When Sass looked at me and says: "I'll take the cockpit," meaning that he would ram his aircraft into the cockpit of the airliner if we found it. And I would take the tail. His objective by aiming at the cockpit would be to take out the terrorists, take out the ability to control the aircraft. And by taking out the tail, I would deprive the aircraft of his ability to fly. I mean, without, without the tail, you know, an airplane becomes aerodynamically unbalanced, and it would just tip over and go straight into the ground.

Chuck Rosenberg: And to be clear, Heather, when you say ram it, you mean staying in your cockpit until your plane hit the target plane. There is no ability to eject or to save yourself in that scenario, is there?

Heather Penney: That's correct. I had briefly played out in my mind, would there be an opportunity for me to pull the ejection handles and save myself? But I immediately realized how ridiculous that would be because if for any reason I miscalculated the vector of my jet, or I wasn't there to ensure that I made any last-minute corrections as we're doing the convergence, how would it be if I was swinging in my shoot watching my F-16 miss the airliner and it continued in towards DC. So, there was no doubt in my mind that this, if we were successful, would be a one-way mission.

Chuck Rosenberg: If you were successful, you would die. And you were obviously prepared to do that as was Sass.

Heather Penney: We were and that sounds like it's an incredible it sounds like it's Amazing. But I truly believe that what we were willing to do that day, anybody would have been willing to do. There is nothing special about what Sass and I were willing to do that day. Any American who had seen the towers, seen how the airliners exploded when they hit the glass, there is no doubt that anybody would have been willing to make the same choice that we were.

Chuck Rosenberg: As you launched that day, you muttered a fighter pilot’s prayer?

Heather Penney: Am I allowed to say it?

Chuck Rosenberg: You can substitute any word you want, for any word you don't want.

Heather Penney: Dear God, please don't let me mess up.

Chuck Rosenberg: And I think you're substituting one word for another to keep this a G rated show.

Heather Penney: That's correct. I knew that if anything I had done in my life mattered up to that point, this was it. Because of the accident and the, just the sheer chance of history that I was not flying that day, that I was hawking the ops desk, that Sass had chosen me to go fly with him, that for all of these reasons, that the universe had put me there at that moment in time, for a reason. And if God had placed me there, then that was my life's purpose. And it was worth it.

Chuck Rosenberg: There's another aspect to this story that I'd like for you to tell: the hijacked aircraft involved was a Boeing 757-222. It had departed Newark International Airport that morning in New Jersey, bound for San Francisco when it was hijacked. It had turned around, and our best intelligence was that it was intended to hit the US Capitol building in Washington DC. You had mentioned earlier that your father was a United pilot. Could you pick up the story from there, Heather?

Heather Penney: Well, there was a very distinct possibility that my father could have been the pilot of flight 93. It was a route that he flew fairly regularly. And that month, he was actually flying East Coast routes. However, that was not a connection that we made until weeks later. My mother called me hysterical in early October, "oh my gosh, that could have been your father." And it's true. It could have been. But it--I'll be honest--never occurred to me. It wasn't something that crossed my mind. It wasn't something that even entered my calculus as we took off that day. And the real story there is that actually, Jason Dahl, who was the captain of that aircraft, was a good friend of my father's, as my dad had been an instructor pilot there at the Denver Training Center, they had shared a cubicle. And so, they spent not only many hours, collaborating and working together and instructing together, but talking about their wives and their lives and their children. And, and so it's, on one hand, another incredible coincidence of how all of our stories are interwoven and interconnected. And on the other hand, it was not a story at all, because I didn't think about it.

Chuck Rosenberg: This may sound like an awful question, but would it have mattered?

Heather Penney: No, we had a mission to protect our nation, to protect our nation's capital. And the truth was, is that we knew by then, that the fate of everyone on that aircraft had already been decided, no matter how it ended. We'd seen three airliners used as weapons. Everyone on board of those airliners was dead. So, we knew that any additional hijacked aircraft, that the fate of those people in a, in a macro sense, they were already dead, and certainly for the pilots, who we knew had been overcome and murdered. It wouldn't have mattered.

Chuck Rosenberg: You ultimately talk to your dad about this. What did he say?

Heather Penney: He didn't take it personal that I tend to really think about him. I mean, he's, he's a fighter pilot too. And he had flown his missions in Vietnam, you know, he did his 100. And, and he lost good friends over there. And he understood that when you have mission, you have a mission to go do and so, although my mom still even gets kind of teary about the possibility, for me, it's a non-story. It's a non-event and he gets that.

Chuck Rosenberg: You wrote movingly about that day and about your experience. And I say movingly, because you write to higher principles, how their higher ideals, what binds us together as Americans, and the lessons that you learn from that day that carry forward in your own life. Can you talk about that?

Heather Penney: It really comes down to the realization that anyone would have been willing to do what Sass and I were willing to do that day, that we were nothing special. And when you think about who the true heroes of that day are, the passengers on flight 93, they had not taken the oath that Sass and I had taken. Clearly, in the military, you know, we don't plan on going on suicide missions, right. So there was still something very unique about what we were sent to go do. But we knew that in the course of executing our duties, which I believe is a privilege and honor and an obligation, that we could potentially die. And so, I think every service member, every warfighter, understands that, understands that there are things in this world that are more important than ourselves. And that's why we take the oath, that's why we're willing to do what we do and do the long hours and the crazy deployments and take what we do so seriously, and do it with such passion and fervor. But when those passengers got on that airliner that morning, they were just going on a business trip, coming home from vacation or going to see grandma, I mean, it was, they didn't wake up that morning saying, yep, I'm going to be a hero today. They were just ordinary Americans. And yet, I think they fulfilled what we all know to be a sacred oath, in a way that is more heroic, and selfless, and courageous than I can imagine,

Chuck Rosenberg: Flight 93 carried 33 passengers and seven crew, they were all heroes. And had they not been heroes, hundreds, maybe 1000s of more would have died, including you and Sass.

Heather Penney: And I would not have faulted them because this was so unprecedented. But the fact that they rose to the occasion that they made, the choices that they did, is part of what gives me so much hope. And faith in our country is our country is made up of people who have come together based around certain ideals. And we are not perfect, but we constantly strive towards those ideals. I think often of the greatest generation from World War Two, and we call them the greatest generation because every single, every single one of them served, whether or not that was in combat, overseas, or here on the home front. Our entire nation was mobilized in the service of freedom, humanity, democracy. What's clear to me is that greatest generation, that DNA, that spirit that they all had is not dead. That that little piece of magic still lives on in who we are today. And the passengers on 93, for me, are the proof of that. Because they answered a call that nobody asked for.

Chuck Rosenberg: I agree with you, that DNA, that spirit, that magic lives in all of those passengers and crew on flight 93. And so many others, first responders at the Pentagon and New York City, firefighters and police officers and ordinary citizens, health care workers and EMTs. But that spirit and that magic, that DNA, Heather, also resides in you. You've had an extraordinary career as a fighter pilot, and I wanted to thank you for that, for what you've given back to this country and for what you were willing to do on its path. It's a remarkable story and you're a remarkable person, even if you don't agree with that.

Heather Penney: Well, thank you. I remain humbled by the people that I have been privileged to serve with, the excellence and the skill that they--and the dedication that they have demonstrated and, and shown to me and, and even more so when I look at the young men and women who are still taking the oath today as they enter the service to our nation, whether or not that's in our armed services or whether or not that's as an FBI agent, or a police officer, as a first responder, as a medical technician, as a doctor, as a firefighter, as teachers. I think there are so many things that we do today, that, although we may not necessarily raise our right hand, and take the oath of office that you and I are so familiar with, in many ways, they are still continuing to serve in the spirit of the oath that we hold so sacred.

Chuck Rosenberg: I certainly couldn't say it better. Heather, thank you so much for your service and for spending some time with us and for sharing your story. It's an extraordinary one.

Heather Penney: Thank you. I really enjoyed chatting with you, Chuck.