Feature

On the morning of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Air Force officer Dana Born, PhD, then a lieutenant colonel, was serving as the commander of the 11th Mission Support Squadron at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., just across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. She and her senior staff were discussing the stunning news of the World Trade Center attacks when a sergeant burst in, telling them that the Pentagon had been hit. As she headed to alert her staff, Born thought of her 4-month-old and 3-year-old daughters at the Pentagon day-care center when she got a call from her husband, who worked in nearby Alexandria, Va. "I'm on my way," he told her.

As Born's squadron evacuated their buildings, she came across an airman, a young enlisted woman who had collapsed on the ground, devastated that she couldn't reach her husband, a fellow service member at the Pentagon.

Born told her "that her team was depending on her and that she would find out about her husband as soon as she could." The woman immediately got back up and took her place with her fellow squadron members, doing exactly what she was trained to do.

Born didn't think anything of that particular moment at the time, but several people who witnessed the interaction later told her that it strengthened their resolve to do their jobs in the face of national and personal tragedy.

Nine hours passed before Born learned that her own children and husband were safe.

The next few weeks were a blur of activity, as the squadron went on a 24-hour schedule, working 12-hour shifts manning a call center and assistance office for people who had lost family members at the Pentagon. They also helped set up the process for identifying bodies and distributing benefits.

Under Born's leadership, four of her squadron members assigned to the Pentagon were recognized by the Air Force for valor, and 30 more won citations for going "above and beyond" the call of duty in the months following the attack.

Providing such leadership is just part of her role as the dean of the faculty of the Air Force Academy, where since September 2004, she has overseen the design and instruction of more than 500 undergraduate courses for 4,000 cadets in 32 academic disciplines. Born, herself a 1983 Air Force Academy graduate, earned her doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology from Pennsylvania State University in 1994. She was promoted to her current rank of brigadier general in October 2004.

Following her tour at Bolling AFB, Born returned to the academy in 2002-just six months before a sexual assault scandal broke. Soon after, several investigations established that the Air Force had not addressed a longstanding problem in investigating and reporting cases of sexual assault at the academy.

Born and other members of the academy's senior leadership implemented sweeping reforms, and recent surveys of the cadets show that the climate, in terms of how female cadets are treated, is improving. Cadets now know how to report sexual assault and are more willing to do so-and are more accepting of female cadets as fellow comrades in arms.

While some traditions of service academies, such as personal responsibility and excellence, are admirable, the traditionally macho atmosphere may contribute to incidents of harassment.

However, Born has pushed the institution to root out sexual assault and harassment, boost respect for religious differences and promote honor and integrity among cadets.

"I think this is an organization that has really taken ownership and is motivated to try to enhance the culture and climate," she says.

Improving the campus climate is part of Born's and the academy's overarching mission of developing America's best and brightest into future leaders.

"I believe that all of us in leadership positions have the responsibility to inspire future generations of young men and women to realize their potential and accomplish great things as our mentors inspired us," she says.

-- C. Munsey