From adversity, strength
REMEMBERING SEPTEMBER 11
It's been one year since the Sept. 11 attacks claimed three Boeing employees. But the families and coworkers of Chad Keller, D.C. Lee and Ruben Ornedo are resolved to keep these men's contributions to their country and company alive.
By Maureen Jenkins
For most folks, Sept. 10, 2001, will be remembered as a day like most others. But for some, it was the last normal 24 hours of their lives.On Sept. 10, a year ends. On Sept. 11, a new one begins.When terrorists attacked the United States on the morning of Sept. 11, the worldwide Boeing team felt an acute sense of pain. Not only were its airplanesvehicles proudly designed and built to bring people togetherused to target the World Trade Center and sites in Washington, D.C., but the company lost three of its own in these tragic attacks.
That made the unthinkable very, very personal.Chandler "Chad" Keller, Dong "D.C." Lee, and Ruben Ornedoall employees of the former Space and Communications business unit, all well-regarded by their Boeing coworkers and adored by their familieswere passengers on American Airlines Flight 77, which was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon that day. The men didn't work together closely at Boeing, but their lives became forever entwined in a way no one could have foreseen.
The anniversary of the terrorist attacks will be an arduous one for their familiesboth the ones they left behind at home, and the ones who still mourn them at Boeing. Constant news reports keep the memories, and the pain, ever before them. Even at work, the men's presences are still keenly felt. Ornedo's nameplate at his Boeing Satellite Systems office in El Segundo, Calif., still hangs outside his door. Keller's BSS coworkers keep a Polaroid snapshotone that shows the fun-loving Chad receiving a gift at a team Christmas partyposted on the department bulletin board. So keenly felt that their friends and family sometimes still speak about them in the present tense.
But slowly, imperceptibly even, those who knew Chad, D.C., and Ruben best are starting to remember them with funny anecdotes and laughter, although mingled with the all-too-fresh sadness. Sure, the tears still sometimes well up and flow. But their families and friends know that these men would want them to look aheadjust as these three would no doubt be doing now.
On Sept. 10, Chad Kellerstationed in D.C. on another of his government business tripswas anxious to get back home to California and wife Lisa. They were newlyweds, practically, having been married just over a year.
Talk to folks who knew Keller well, and they expound on his can-do attitude. Exceptional intellect combined with down-to-earth people skills. Top-notch technical engineering talent tempered with patience. And then they digress, sharing stories of his fun-loving side, the one that loved to play sports and wax poetic about his beloved University of Colorado Buffaloes.
In short, he was a 29-year-old renaissance man.
"He was very well-rounded," said wife Lisa, an associate communications director for Team One Advertising in El Segundo, Calif. "That's what I loved about himhe was smart but fun, and outdoorsy and athletic."
Blessed with natural intelligence and athletic skills honed in the California sun, Keller was an avid surfer and softball player. While Lisa didn't share his passion for the waves, she secretly took month-long lessons in August 2000 in order to surprise her husband when he returned from one of his frequent business trips. He was thrilled his wife wanted to try something that meant so much to him, and they surfed together soon after that Labor Day. They would go only once.
Keller's Boeing team was a close-knit group, said BSS Propulsion Manager Jeff Hollender, because there wasn't much employee turnover. "People got to know each other; it was a family environment," he said. "A large part of it is you end up spending many years with these people, and on these tests, and you tend to travel a lot. It's the same people day in and day out."
As much as his coworkers liked Chad personally, said Propulsion Operations Manager Don Fulkerson, they respected his work. Employed at Boeing for five years, he was a senior project engineer at BSS and was being groomed for a project management position on the government side.
"As I said in the eulogy, there was never a job that was too big of a challenge or too small for Chad," Fulkerson said. "That's the type of person I look to bring into an organization.
"The first thing I look at in an individual is what I perceive as their work ethic. People who are willing to go the extra mile are the people who are going to be doing well. And Chad was doing very well in this organization in a very short period of time."
And it wasn't just the engineers who were fond of Keller. At one of her husband's memorial services, recalled Lisa, guys from the Boeing Satellite Systems factory floor shared their thoughts.
"One of the guys came up to me and said that they just really appreciated Chad," Keller said. "He said Chad was great and he treated everyone equally. He didn't think he was better than anyone; he was just a good guy."
Before losing Chad, Keller said, "the coworker thing was the side of him I didn't really know that much about." But after his death, through heartfelt messages scribbled on collages, through sitting at awards dinners with his Boeing teammates and managers, that all changed.
"You really learned what a superstar he was through everything people had to say," she said. "He just seemed really well-liked."
Despite the different Boeing jobs they held, Keller, Lee and Ornedo all worked on programs that involved their nation's defense. And that, say their coworkers and family, was a charge they took seriously.
"We remember our friends, Chad Keller and Ruben Ornedo, with love and respect," said BSS President Randy Brinkley, who's had contact with both families since the tragedy. "It is their spirits, their lives, and their legacies that we honor in our hearts and our thoughts today and always. We do not honor Sept. 11 itself or the deeds that took them from us. We do not honor anything that attempts to interfere with freedom and democracy. And I say 'attempts,' because I am so proud of what I have seen and felt this year from BSS employees."
I have seen incredible strength come from loss. I have seen cohesion come from separation. I have felt pride evolve from anger. It is this inspiration that we continue to be grateful for, because it lives on in us as we remember them."
And these memories take different forms. For Keller's coworkers, an American flag hung outside his BSS cubicle is a constant reminder, as is the Colorado Buffaloes sticker Chad mischievously stuck on coworker Dane Johoske's University of Michigan clock. And for wife Lisawho admits that surfing still isn't her strong suita trip to the ocean on what would have been her second wedding anniversary this past July was an apt memorial to the man she loved.
"It's the one thing I've done since, a couple times," she said, "as a tribute to Chad."
* * *
D.C. Lee was excited about his latest project, and wanted to demonstrate how its technology could help the Boeing Digital Cinema program in Southern California. So on Sept. 10, he prepared for his early morning trip the next day.
Unlike Chad Keller's coworkers who both worked and played hard together, the 16 or so employees in Lee's Dunn Loring, Va., office seemed to lead parallel professional lives. Most were senior-level workers responsible for specific systems engineering and business development projects, and these didn't always intersect with those tackled by their coworkers. Much of their time was spent on the road.
Lee, 48, was a man of quiet strength, they say, and one who was incredibly well liked and respected within the group. Born in Korea, he moved to the United States while in junior high school. Passionately devoted to his adopted land, he served in the U.S. Air Force for four years before picking up two degrees in computer science.
Most recently, Lee was the technical lead for TecSec, Inc., a Virginia-based information security firm in which Boeing had an equity investment. Possessing a background in intelligence and computer systemscoupled with the vision to see new business possibilitiesLee was helping TecSec pursue commercial uses of its software and technology.
In Dunn Loring, office manager Susan Jones said Lee wouldn't often initiate conversation, but would eagerly participate in one when engaged. And he often talked of his three children: Daniel, now 14; Melissa, who's 13; and nine year-old Cynthia.
Lee's youngest daughter Cynthia and coworker Rick White's oldest daughter played on the same soccer teama fact the two stumbled upon at a game one day. Lee was the team's assistant coach.
"He enjoyed it a lot," said White, a program manager in the Dunn Loring office. "That was one of the places where his competitive spirit came out a bit."
Still, Lee brought his mild-mannered optimism even to this. While the team's head coach was more aggressive, said White, "D.C. was following along, building (the kids') spirit: 'Good try,' 'good job.'
It was only at Lee's standing-room-only memorial service on Sept. 15 that his coworkers discovered just how involved he was at Christian Fellowship Church in Ashburn, Va., and how strong his personal religious life had been.
"Faith in God was his first priority," said his wife, Jungmi. And by sharing that strength, she says she's been able to be strong for her three children. She's also grateful for the prayers and letters of support offered by Lee's Boeing colleagues and friends.
"That helps me a lot after this happened," she said. "I'm not mad at God, because we knew whether it is good or bad, he is in control of everything. Without that, it would be much harder to go on."
Mike O'Neil, Lee's direct boss and manager of Advanced Systems for Satellite and Intelligence Systems, recalled seeing Lee occasionally read his Bible during lunch breaksand Jones knew that he went to Bible study classes in his spare timebut he wasn't preachy about his faith.
"What really strikes you is he had a good balance in lifefamily first, religion, workand was able to keep all that real balanced," O'Neil said. Lee, a former National Security Agency employee, first worked for O'Neil while completing a three-year rotation at the Central Intelligence Agency.
2001 was a tough year for the small Dunn Loring team. They lost one employee to brain cancer that August; another had congestive heart failure and was forced to take a long-term disability leave. But the loss of D.C. struck themas it did all who knew himespecially hard.
"We talked to each other a lot," said Jones of the time. "Talking about the 'what ifs,' the 'whys,' the usual questions people ask themselves when something like this happens. We became a little bit closer."
Since last September, said O'Neil, the 11th day of each month always brought with it a slight stab of sadness for team members who knew D.C. "It's sort of a spontaneous thing," he said. "Sept. 11 a year ago seems so long ago, but it doesn't seem so long ago. It's more remembrance and interest in if [Lee's] family's OK.
"He was a unique individual doing really excellent work with a big payoff for the company. The company's lost that, but that's nothing compared to what the family lost."
That notwithstanding, it was tough for O'Neil to find someone to pick up Lee's TecSec work. He brought a specialized set of skills to the projectnot to mention his unfailing optimism about its potential. But then, said wife Jungmi, that was no surprise.
"He was a really positive person. D.C. was right for that division," said Jungmi, who shared her husband's computer science background, "because he was good at looking at the big picture. He was always looking at the future technologies. He had a lot of ideas, and in a way, since he joined Boeing, he finally felt like he fit in.
"He always looked for challenges, something he could contribute from his background and skills. He finally thought he could do that."
* * *
Ruben Ornedo liked to say he had two families: the one he was just beginning with his new wife, Sheila, and the one he'd enjoyed for years at Boeing Satellite Systems.
He'd spent the evening of Sept. 10 with his team of coworkers in Washington, D.C., sharing dinner, drinks and a bunch of laughs. He'd planned to catch the first flight to L.A. the next morning to join Sheila, who was having a rough time with her first pregnancy.
That night after dinner, Ornedo called his wife. Eager to get home, he asked Sheila to give him a wake-up call if she happened to be up at 1 a.m. Pacific time. He told her he'd had an earlier dream about missing his flight. He promised her it would be his last trip.
The lead engineer in the systems engineering organization at BSS, 39-year-old Ornedo was a rising star who excelled at the government program work he did. He was a heritage Hughes Aircraft Company employee who seemed to wear a constant smile. His Boeing coworkers called him "Ornedo the Tornado"and that was a compliment to the man who they say could solve problems faster than anyone they knew.
Ornedo was their rock, their mentor, the one everyone turned to with questions that didn't have easy answers.
"Ruben could sit and look at things," said former Hughes coworker and close friend Pat Greaves, "but be very calm and very quick and could figure out what the problem was and what was the solution."
"Ruben was also known as 'know-it-all,'" said Rose Delgadillo, a staff engineer on Ornedo's team.
"If he didn't know," added staff engineer Mark Orita, "he'd figure it out."
What former team member Mayer Gusik appreciated most was the fact Ornedo would "listen, and he didn't micromanage." That made him and his coworkers feel free to take risks, knowing they wouldn't be punished for trying.
"He knew how to help you out," said staff engineer Marc Ruiterman, "but did it in such a good way. It was a pleasurable way to find things out."
For some, the transition to management is tough. But it wasn't for Ruben.
"It's one of those things where you go from being a worker to directing the work of those around you," said Bill Procopio, BSS function manager for Telemetry & Command, Systems Engineering. He also was Ornedo's boss. "That's a mindset change. [But] he never lost the sense of working real hard."
"After he died, attending the memorial service, I learned more about what he did," said Sheila, his wife of just three months and a medical and surgical nurse. "My brother said he didn't know Ruben was as big-time as that. He was very simplehe loved [wearing] hiking boots. He wasn't showy."
"There probably wasn't one thing you'd ask Ruben to help you with that he wouldn't do," Procopio said. "He was always considerate of people's feelings, and people are attracted to that. That's how he developed such a close relationship with his group."
For project engineer Pablo Sotto, the younger Ornedo served as a teacher of sorts from the time they first worked together in systems test. Over the years, they also became friends, going together to flea markets and to church. In fact, when Ornedo decided to propose to Sheila, he asked Sotto to translate his words into Tagalog, her native Filipino language. He kept notes in his pocket just in case. But that was Ruben, they say. Always going the extra mile.
Post-Sept. 11, when she thinks of her late mentor and boss, Delgadillo envisions him as a parental figure. "And after he left," she said, "it was like you had to stand on your own."
Senior staff engineer Vance Miwa still mourns the loss of his friendand wishes he could still tap his technical knowledge on the jobbut he's taken a less tangible lesson away from all this.
"For me, it's taking time out for myself," he said, recalling how the Ornedos would worry that he spent such long hours at work. "Life is short, and you never know what will happen." Miwa wants to explore hiking and mountain biking, two of Ruben's passions, "just to experience some of the things he experienced."
Pat Greaveswho Sheila asked to be one of her baby Robin's godmothers because of her long-lasting friendship with Rubenalso is philosophical. "I believe we are put here to do certain jobs," she said. "I believe Ruben's job was to bring laughter and happiness to people's lives. Just to make you laugh; just to make you smile. That, I think, was his job. And he did it well."
Sheila Ornedo wants seven-month-old Robin to remember the father she'll never get to meet. "That's why I'm glad [his coworkers] send me letters for her," Ornedo said, "so someday she can read them and know about her dad."
The friends who loved Ruben have adopted his wife and child as their own. Delgadillo posts recent snapshots of Robinwhom Sheila calls "the gift Daddy gave me"outside Ruben's old office.
"She's everybody's baby now," Delgadillo said.
It's been nearly a year, but for many, the wounds are still raw. Boeing employees who had never heard the names of Chad Keller, D.C. Lee and Ruben Ornedo on Sept. 10 found themselves adopting these men's families' and friends' grief as their own on the 11th. At the BSS memorial service held just two days later, some 8,000 employeesmost viewing it through closed-circuit TVs or their computersstopped, remembered and mourned these three.
"Boeing people responded as I would expectwith shock at the event, and with courage and feeling in supporting those in need," said Chairman and CEO Phil Condit, who attended and spoke at the BSS memorial service last Sept. 13.
"That they pulled together and supported the families who had lost so much does not surprise me, but makes me very proud to be part of a great company."
Boeing employeesas well as those who knew Keller, Lee and Ornedo personallyare preparing to observe the tragic anniversary in their own ways.
"People were probably hurting for a good six months," said Procopio of Ornedo's team. "You have to understand that whole incident was so dramatic because there were some other people from that group that were supposed to be on (Ruben's) plane. They either overslept or changed their plane reservations, so you can see that has a very dramatic impact on how they feel."
Since last year, Boeing employees and management have embraced the three men's coworkers and families, offering financial, emotional and "just-being-there" support.
There are the photos and plaques on permanent display in BSS' Building S26 cafeteria. The BSS employee–proposed memorial wall and plaque that will stand in El Segundo's Freedom Park as a tribute to Ornedo and Keller. The University of Colorado engineering scholarship established in Chad Keller's name. The Virginia golf tournament held in D.C. Lee's memory that received a Boeing company donation. The Boeing Rocketdyne employees who, not knowing Ruben or Sheila Ornedo but touched by their story, sold $5 patriotic pins in order to help support the couple's newborn child.
Calamity has a way of throwing people together and shaping relationships that wouldn't have existed on Sept. 10. That's what's happened between the affected families and Boeing human resource professionals Suzanne Curtin, who worked with the Kellers and Ornedos, and Doris Druid, who aided the Lees. Both were among the first Boeing people to visit the families soon after Sept. 11. Beyond helping them deal with benefits, insurance and memorial funds, these professionals haveon behalf of Boeingbecome tangible examples of the company's ongoing support.
"It was very heartwarming," said Curtin, BSS Human Resources director. "Any assistance we needed from within Boeing, we received." Since last September, she has met with the Keller and Ornedo families "at least a dozen times." Druid has invited Jungmi Lee to programs she thinks she'd be interested in.
"You get to the point where you have a connection that developed because of tragedy," Curtin said. She'll periodically call Lisa Keller and Sheila Ornedo, and sometimes sends notes to their families. She's had one-on-one lunches with the women. They obviously feel a bond with Curtin, tooOrnedo invited her to attend baby Robin's christening this spring.
Because their husbands' work was well respected during their all-too-brief careers, these three women likely will always feel some connection to Boeing. And those bonds will live on. Not just in their husbands' coworkers' memories, but in the tangible work these men performed. Even government customers recognized their impact, presenting Lisa Keller and Sheila Ornedo last fall with Defense Freedom Medalsthe civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart.
"If there's any message to the Boeing employees," Procopio said, "it's what they do makes a difference. The defense of the country is what it's all about."
The loss of D.C., Chad and Ruben is one that their loved ones and friends will never get over, but with time can hope to get through.
"I want to ask God, 'Why?'" Ornedo said, "but I have no right to question him. Even if I'm hurting, I can't ask him because I know there's a reason for it."
"The initial pain, over time, diminishes a little bit," said Keller's manager Jeff Hollender. "You remember him fondly now. You think back and start to smile because you remember the funny things he said. He was always smiling and upbeat and always had a quip."
"For us," Delgadillo said, "Sept. 10 is a very significant day." It was the last time she, Orita, and Ruiterman saw Ruben, sharing dinner the night before he left for home. "On Sept. 10, we close one year. On Sept. 11, we begin a new year."
For Ornedo's Boeing team, the 10th will be a day "that's remembered with happiness and sadness and a couple of drinks. A toast to him, and a toast to us, because we have each other.
"No matter where we go or who retires," Delgadillo said, "we're connected forever."
Editor's note: Boeing employees who are experiencing continued stress over events related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (or any other tragedy), can find helpful phone numbers and articles at the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Web site on the Boeing intranet at http://shea.ca.boeing.com/companymedical/CoEAP/call.html
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