Nicolas Valois Snaps Military Fashion As Madame Figaro France Inspires Delayed 9/11 Reflections

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Model Loane Normand suits up in utilitarian military looks so fancied in Europe. Cecile Martin styles Normand in images by Nicolas Valois for Madame Figaro France August 31, 2019.

Speaking of taking a fancy to bad-ass military women, it’s Madame Figaro France who just introduced me to the new Valerie Plame Campaign video. Plame is a well-known CIA agent who was outed in the Bush administration and had to leave the service. She’s now running for Congress (the House of Representatives) as a Democrat from New Mexico. We have multiple new military and CIA women in Congress elected in November 2018 — and I love them.

Now that Madame Figaro has set up this nod to America’s women , let me share more of my favs. Next up, Amy McGrath running in Kentucky to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Amy narrowly lost her House election in November 2018.

This was Amy’s first campaign video against Rep. Andy Barr, one that put her on the map when the Democratic party was officially backing another Kentucky candidate. McGrath won her Kentucky Democratic party primary before narrowly losing her general election run in the heavily red state.

It was Amy’s second campaign video that I’ve played 500 times. I’ve thought of McGrath so often this past week, as September 11, 2001 is the most memorable day of my life. I left my loft in Jersey City, making my way to the Hudson River waterfront, joining a crowd of about 100 Muslims gathered at the landing of the Department of Motor Vehicles. I did not know then that three of the hijackers lived three blocks from me, and I passed their mosque every day.

I was the only non-Muslim woman standing in the crowd, as I’ve always remembered the event. It’s possible that one or two others also stood on the banks of the Hudson, watching the horror show in lower Manhattan .

All of the women wore burqas, and I couldn’t read their eyes when the first tower fell. They expressed no visible emotion, unlike the men who cheered wildly with clapping hands and homages to Allah. There was no doubt then that the second tower would fall also, creating another surreal moment for me as the foreigner standing on this contained concrete slab, I was the outsider — an outcast — in this ‘American’ celebration of deadly violence against an ill-prepared enemy.

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I knew also that the Pentagon had been hit but United #93, the fourth hijacked airliner was still in the air, headed for Washington, DC. As I watched the second World Trade Center Tower fall to more jubilant cheers from the Muslim men — my neighbors — Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath was called to duty, one of multiple fighter pilots near Washington DC ordered to her base that morning.

What’s heroic about Amy McGrath is that she was the first political candidate in the 2018 cycle in a conservative district to call out President Donald Trump big-time. And Amy did it royally, not worrying what it would do to her campaign. Amy’s memorable video follows. To say that I love this woman with all my heart is a total understatement.:

Amy McGrath 2018Sept. 11 Campaign Video

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Amy McGrath never mentions that she was waiting to join a crew that would shoot down UA 93, but I always knew what commercial airliner she was talking about. When I saw the title of Garrett M. Graff’s new book ‘The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11’, part of a Politico Magazine article ‘We May Have to Shoot Down This Aircraft’, I began reading.

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I had never heard this part of the September 11 story. As exciting as it might be in an action film starring a sexy bombshell blonde, this tale is for real. Lt. Col Marc Sasseville and — I am PROUD to say — Lt. Heather ‘Lucky’ Penney are center stage in a mind-boggling narrative of the US not really having a plan for dealing with airplanes hijacked by terrorists. Even though, there were multiple warnings in advance that a terrorist incident involving airplanes was in the works.

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To summarize the situation in that moment, despite an extended period of warnings that an internal terrorist attack was in the makings (a warning I published on my old website in the summer of 2001) the United States wasn’t functionally prepared to shoot down a hijacked commercial airliner headed for the US Capitol. Shocking, but true.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney, F-16 pilot, D.C. Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland: Our chain of command didn’t go up to NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command], didn’t go up through the First Air Force, which oversaw operations in the United States. They had no method to be able to reach down—or even be able to know that the D.C. National Guard was there and available. There were no rules of engagement. I hadn’t even thought about what that kind of mission might be like on American soil.

Col. Matthew Klimow, executive assistant to the Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, Pentagon: No one had ever contemplated the need to shoot down a civilian airliner.

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Given the power of the US military, you would assume that fighter jets would be unleashed with the only real challenge being where to shoot down United 93 without creating massive additional casualties on the ground.

For this reason, I was shocked to read the next paragraph — and I can only assume that Lt. Col. Amy McGrath was sitting in her cockpit ready for takeoff during this period. Had her mission actually been scrapped, replaced by Penney and Sasseville on the move. Did McGrath know that the proposed mission was a kamikaze mission and not some Tom Cruise movie?

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With the order given from Vice President Cheney, the military scrambled to find fighters it could bring into the fight—even if that meant launching them unarmed, on a kamikaze mission to crash their own fighters into hijacked airliners. The scrambled fighter jets would never make contact with Flight 93—the passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93 passengers were planning, at the same time, to take the plane down themselves.

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Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney, F-16 pilot, D.C. Air National Guard: This sounds counterintuitive, but when the magnitude of the situation hit me, I really lost all emotion. It was really much more focused on, What are the things I need to do to enable us to protect our capital? What are the things I need to do to facilitate us getting airborne?

Brigadier General David Wherley, commander, D.C. Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland: My translation of the rules to Sass was, “You have weapons-free flight-lead control.” I said, “Do you understand what I’m asking you to do?” [Sasseville and Penney] both said yes. I told them to be careful.

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These next few words underscore why I have such deep respect for our politicos with military training. As Sasseville and Penney suited up for their mission, critical decisions were made:

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville, F-16 pilot, U.S. Air Force: As we’re going out to the jets, Lucky and I had a quick conversation about what it is that we were going to do and how we were basically going to do the unthinkable if we had to.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: We would be ramming the aircraft. We didn’t have [missiles] on board to shoot the airplane down. As we were putting on our flight gear in the life support shop, Sass looked at me and said, “I’ll ram the cockpit.” I made the decision I would take the tail off the aircraft.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville: We didn’t have a whole lot of options.

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Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: I had never been trained to scramble [mobilize] the aircraft. It would typically take about 20 minutes to start the jets, get the avionics systems going, go through all the preflight checks to make sure the systems were operating properly, program the computers in the aircraft. That’s not even including the time to look at the forms, do the walk-around of the airplane, and whatnot. We usually planned about half-an-hour to 40 minutes from the time you walked out the door to the time that you actually took off.

Col. George Degnon, vice commander, 113th Wing, Andrews Air Force Base: We did everything humanly possible to get the aircraft in the air.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: I just got my radios up, and I was yelling at my crew chief, “Pull the chocks!” He pulled the chocks and I push my throttle. The crew chief was still running under the tail so that my gear would come up—there are safety pins that are all in the airplane—and so they were pulling all those safety pins as I was taxiing to go do an immediate take-off. I didn’t even have an inertia navigation unit. I didn’t have any of that set up. It was lucky it was a clear, blue day because we didn’t have all the avionics. They were not yet awake when we took off.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville: I was thinking, Wow, we’re in a little trouble here.

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Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: Sass and I fully expected to intercept Flight 93 and take it down.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville: I was going into this moral or ethical justification of the needs of the many versus the needs of the few.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off. If we did it right, this would be it.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville: There was all this smoke in my cockpit. It made me nauseous to be honest with you—not from an Ugh, this stinks, it was more from an Oh my God, we’ve been hit on our own soil and we’ve been hit big. I couldn’t believe they had gotten through and they managed to pull off this attack.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville: They made the decision we didn’t have to make.

The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves.

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Now the Politico Magazine excerpt from The only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 shifts to the heartbreaking, totally-inspiring story of ordinary people who began their day headed for San Francisco on Flight 93. Because of their heroic decision to rush the cockpit and crash the airplane into the fields of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, Penney and Sassville returned to base alive.

Like so many New Yorkers, our lives were shattered by the events of September 11, 2001. There are so many incredible stories from ordinary people that blue-sky Tuesday and in the ensuing days. I went to live at Ground Zero in 2006, wanting to be part of the rebirthing process and a positive journey that took me deeply into activist relationships in the Arab world.

Thanks, Madame Figaro France, for helping me write the story I wanted to share on September 11 but couldn’t. I needed to be propped up, and you provided the fashion ammunition. And you celebrated that totally bad-ass campaign video for Valerie Plume. Totally inspiring! Contrived, of course. But nobody has suggested that she wasn’t trained at the highest levels of the CIA. The haters — mostly Trump guys — are just jealous . . . or weak in the knees in the face of women and men with true grit backbone. ~ Anne