Nearly two months after her husband was killed in the World Trade Center, a woman put her arms around Gen. John P. Jumper’s neck at the World Series in Phoenix. She whispered four words in the Air Force chief of staff’s ear:
“You get those guys.”
The widow’s words only added to Jumper’s determination to protect American lives and lead the Air Force’s response to the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history.
“That was all the emotion I needed at the time to get me and everything that was in my power to take care of business,” Jumper said in an interview at the Pentagon Memorial. “She was the one I thought of the day we got Osama bin Laden.”
Jumper retired in November 2005 after a 40-year Air Force career that featured commands of Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Allied Air Forces Central Europe and 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces.
On Sept. 11, 2001, during Jumper’s first intelligence briefing on his first full day as chief of staff. Lt. Col. Pierre Powell, Secretary of the Air Force Action Group deputy chief, suddenly stopped his briefing, announced that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers in New York and turned the TV to CNN.
“The news commentator was talking about how the airplane had hit the building, and it looked like somebody had been off-course going into LaGuardia [Airport],” Jumper said. “Of course, there was a conference table full of Airmen who looked at that dark-blue sky on CNN, then looked at each other, and we knew right away that it wasn’t a navigation mistake. It was something much more profound than that. Shortly after that, the second airplane hit, and we were all quite certain what was going on.”
It wasn’t long before Jumper and his staff learned a third airplane had turned around and was headed toward Washington. Everyone ran upstairs to their offices, and Jumper went to Secretary of the Air Force James G. Roche to get him out of his office. As they were walking out of the office, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon.
They went downstairs to the Air Force Command Center, where they stayed until smoke began filling the building, and an Andrews Air Force Base, Md., helicopter unit evacuated them to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.
When Jumper arrived at the Pentagon in September 2001 after commanding U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Combat Command, his focus had been on the service’s transformation to unmanned aerial vehicles, which performed well in campaigns in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia. His priorities were also on recapitalization and continuing the development of the F-22 Raptor and a new tanker, and he was watching China’s emergence as a significant military power. But the events on 9/11 forced a reorganization of many of the priorities Jumper expected to have when he assumed his chief of staff duties.
“We were looking not only at the kind of crisis that would be defined by the crisis in Kosovo, but also the emerging conventional powers around the world,” Jumper said. “I think we were all cognizant of the rising danger of radical fanatics that we’ve had to deal with. All of these things were sort of in the mix as I looked forward on the sixth of September, and of course, all of that changed on the 11th of September.”
Much has changed since the terrorist attacks a decade ago, both for the nation and for the Air Force and rest of the military. One thing that hasn’t changed is Jumper’s appreciation for the U.S. Airmen’s commitment to protect their nation and fellow citizens from future attacks.
“We all signed up to defend our country and do whatever it takes,” Jumper said. “That’s what every Airman is willing to do, I guarantee you. When I visit in the [area of responsibility] during the height of action even today, there is no doubt in my mind that the Airmen of the United States Air Force can explain to me exactly what they are there for, that they understand their mission and are dedicated to getting it done.
“In my day, I served two tours in Vietnam, but very few people served a second tour. You look at these Airmen today, and you can compare them with the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who are out there, too, on their third, fourth and fifth deployments. It is a heck of a lot different, but I think every Airman has a grand sense of duty. Every time I go over there, I’m just as proud as I was when I was on active duty to watch our Airmen work.”
When Jumper visited the Pentagon Memorial as he looked toward the 10th anniversary of the most deadly terrorist attack on American ground, he reflected on the impact that day had on families who lost loved ones in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, and on the families of service members who have lost sons and daughters in service to their country since. He also thought of the woman who hugged his neck in November 2001, at what was then Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, of the job Airmen have done to defend Americans from future attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
“Being here that day makes you feel like you’re a part of history,” Jumper said. “But I also feel I was very much a part of the ongoing solution, not that this will ever be completely resolved. But I feel we have taken care of the nation’s business in response to this crisis, as best as the military as a joint partner has been able to do, and I’m very proud of that.”