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An Interview With Elisa D’Antonio

July 13, 2017

“I can’t not mention this. I was in the Pentagon on 9/11.”

We’d already been talking for nearly an hour about her time in the Air Force and stories of her Scouting career. I thought I had everything I needed for a story about Elisa D’Antonio, the council’s new Cub Scout Camping Committee Chairman.

I leaned back in my chair and got comfortable again. She had my attention.

“When I went to work for the Air Force Flight Standards Agency, I got [to Washington, D.C.] at the very end of July in 2001. The agency, our bosses, were actually over in the Pentagon so I had to go through the headquarter’s Air Force orientation class where they told you all the administrative stuff about working at the Pentagon.”

Elisa, in the middle of a 20-year Air Force career, started her week-long course on Monday, Sept. 10 in a classroom on the south side of the Pentagon. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon on Sept. 11 at 9:37 a.m.

“We weren’t quite sure what had happened. They were just bringing a tv into class just before the plane hit the Pentagon. They had just turned the tv on and were turning the volume up, and we caught a quick replay of New York. But really, it hadn’t registered what was going on. The next thing you know, ‘ka-boom!’ We heard it and felt it.”

“The fire alarms went off right away. There was no smoke or damage in the area I was in. As soon as the fire alarms went off, we evacuated the building. We were down wind of the explosion and the smoke cloud and the fireball that came up from the explosion hadn’t even traveled over to where we were by the time we were out of the building. I came out of the building and I turned and looked to the right and the cloud of smoke was right there.

“We got out of the building and knew right away that it was an airplane that hit because we could smell the burning jet fuel. So we went across the parking lot and sat on the embankment next to the freeway.”

If Elisa thought the danger was over, she was wrong. Before long, the police began evacuating the group again.

“About a half hour after we got out of the Pentagon the police came over and told us that we had to leave and vacate the area right away. We asked why and they said, ‘There’s another airplane coming.’”

The plane the police were referring to was United Airlines Flight 93. Headed from New Jersey to San Francisco, the plane veered off course and was headed back towards Washington D.C. It eventually crashed in Pennsylvania about 130 miles northwest of D.C.

Elisa, who was 11 weeks pregnant with her daughter at the time, and her friend walked a mile or two away from the Pentagon to a nearby hotel. There they found pay phones to make calls to family. By this time, the subway had also reopened so the women hopped on to get out of the city. Elisa eventually got back to her car at nearby Joint Base Andrews and finally arrived home around 2 p.m.

“So that was a big thing.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Elisa had lived through a terrorist attack but her summation of the event was more matter-of-fact than dramatic. But then, that’s Elisa personality too. Her career had trained her to deal with adversity and risk.

“I had wanted to fly and be an astronaut since I was 12 or 13 and had always been interested in science and space. I was overly serious in high school. I was recruited by the service academies in high school, but I wasn’t quite sure if that was what I wanted to do so I never completed the application process.”

At San Jose State, Elisa signed up for ROTC her second year. After the first couple of classes, she knew she had found her calling. Upon graduation, Elisa traveled to Del Rio, Texas for pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base. After completing the year-long program, she ended up flying a KC-135 which is a 707 4-engine air refueling tanker.

Then, she flew a desk for four years as she likes to say before moving to D.C. for the Air Force Flight Standards. When her husband retired from the Air Force, the family moved to Scott Air Force Base where Elisa finished out active duty.

These days, Elisa fills her time with less dangerous activities.

Before joining the Air Force, Elisa spent years working with youth first as a camp counselor for the YMCA, and then as a program director for parks and rec in college. These experiences served her well as she entered the world of Scouting.

Although she had no formal Scouting experience before her son Ryan, now an Eagle Scout, joined Cub Scouts, she dove right in as his Tiger den leader.

“At that time, I was still on active duty in the Air Force and wasn’t really looking to be a volunteer at that point, but no one else would step up to be the Tiger den leader so I was the leader. At some point in second grade, we really didn’t have a functioning Cubmaster so I kind of got roped into that too.”

In 2010, Elisa took over as the Cub camping chair for the former Lewis & Clark Council and spent time as the Cub Adventure Camp Director. She even served on national camp school staff. As if that wasn’t enough on her plate, she also led her daughter Denise’s Girl Scout Troop!

As the council’s Cub Scout camping committee chair, she helps provide the direction for the volunteers who execute the program.

“We set the broad ideas, policies, themes for all Cub Scout camps. Things aren’t going to change overnight. Getting some good, quality survey feedback this summer will allow us to find out what the parents, leaders and kids want [in camping programs], and what they need.”