Remembering Jason Dahl

I am an airline pilot with United Airlines. In my career I was fortunate to work with one of our great pilots, and one of our great men, who fully grasped living, loving and leadership. He showed me how to be a Captain. He challenged me to look deep inside to find my own gifts and talents that I could use to lead others. More importantly he showed me the importance of personal leadership and the impact that can have on our families, for our employers and on our personal lives. My mentor, and now a name synonymous with September 11th, was Jason Dahl.

Jason was the Captain on flight 93 that was hijacked and crashed in a Pennsylvania field. On that morning United asked me to visit Jason's house and share with his wife and son the events of that morning. Words cannot describe the pain in the eyes of a thirteen year- old as you explain to him his father, his hero in life, would never again walk through their front door. I expected no words from him and none were said.

As the flying community assembled to honor one of our own, thousands of pilots from around the country, from all airlines and all branches of the military, wore their uniform and packed into a small church in Denver to pay last respects. To help honor this man... was a thirteen year-old boy named Matthew who was able to, for a short time, call this man Dad.

While a number of us were asked to put together a eulogy for Jason that day it was the simple eulogy from Jason's son that offered the most important and impassioned eulogy I will ever hear.

What would Matthew choose to talk about? What memories did Jason etch in the mind of his son that made an impression large enough to be included in his dad's eulogy? With a list that could have included flying lessons, jet simulator time and a comfortable life style we all waited for Matthew to reveal his father's most magical impressions.

Matthew approached the podium. As news cameras from around the state rolled... thousands of pilots held their breath in a desperate attempt to keep control of their emotions. Matthew drew a long breath, gathered his thoughts and then began to speak.

"My father never missed a chance to read with me." He said. "Every night my father was home we would pick our favorite book, lay in bed together, and share a bed time story. He was great at changing his voice for each character and we would laugh together as he spent time with me... and read. If it is ok with all of you, I brought along our favorite book and I would like to read it... just one more time... for my father."

Matthew opened to the magical words of Dr. Seuss and slowly began to read. At first he was able to add different voices. As emotions took over he simply concentrated on finishing the story. By the story's end, Matthew's words were shaky and inaudible but he had done what he wanted. Read the story one final time. He closed the back cover and stared down at the closed book. Finally finding the strength to lift his head, Matthew looked up with moist eyes and said... "Goodnight dad."

The years that have followed have been the most tumultuous of my life. Along with every trial, however, comes time to reflect, find meaning, and focus efforts on that in life that matters most. Of all names and titles one can accumulate in life... there are none as important as the title of Dad.

In the years that followed I began to think about Jason's leadership challenge as well as the message, and words of value, I was providing for my own children. These thoughts gave birth to one tiny seed. That tiny seed grew into what is now called the Growing Field - a series to encourage children of all ages to understand their potential in life is without limit.

Many ask where the Growing Field name comes from. To them I explain that somewhere between Somerset and Cairnbrook Pennsylvania is a place called Shanksville. In Shanksville is a barren piece of land, scarred and burned, that will forever serve as a reminder to me the influence each of us can have. It is a field that represents the incredible potential each of us possess if we commit to personal excellence.

This field, on one very special September morning, captured the spirit of a dear friend named Jason Dahl. This Pennsylvania field, now inspiring thousands of children across our country to look deep inside to find their own spectacular gifts and talents, is called the Growing Field.

--- Copyright 2006 Mark E. Hoog
The Growing Field provides leadership materials and programs for today's youth. As an author, Mark speaks from the heart as he draws on years of corporate leadership and management experience to deliver powerful life lessons to children. The stories in the Growing Field Book Series focus on individual gifts, dreaming big dreams, growing personal seeds of success, obtaining life's treasure by overcoming adversity, perseverance to climb personal mountains in life, and finally, the importance of giving back to others and helping them achieve success of their own.

In an effort to provide a positive leadership message for children of all ages, Mr. Hoog also founded the Children's Leadership Institute.

A personal note: Mark Hoog, who I have had the pleasure to meet, kindly shared this story with me in February of this year. I thought today would be the perfect day to publish this to honor and remember not only Jason, but all who lost their lives in the terror attacks on 9/11/01.

Each person who lost their life was special to someone and today I ask everyone to say a prayer, regardless of your religious beliefs, for those who are no longer with us and for peace. I ask you to remember the goodness in people, worldwide, because it is there and most of us want to live in a peaceful world. Read our section on "Remembering 9/11/01" and grieve a little bit for what was lost, but also remember that adversity strengthens us. Be hopeful for the future for what you think about and focus on will come into reality - all it takes is time.

If you have children or grandchildren I highly encourage you to visit Mark's site, The Growing Field and look through the first book in the series, Your Song. I have read it and shared it with my neighbors and friends Help him continue with his mission to strengthen our next generation, so that they can learn truly about their own greatness and capabilities in a way that makes them confident and stronger people.

As the day continues, I will take time to remember.