2023 was a banner year for The 9:57 Project! We partnered with a collection of incredible organizations, created new programs to connect Veterans, educators, and students, and laid the groundwork for an exciting year to come.

But before we share all of that with you, let’s remember why we do what we do:

The 9:57 Project gives Veterans a mission to engage young people with 9/11 stories that highlight courage, resilience, service, and teamwork. Since that tragic date, countless heroic instances have come to light, informing all who would care to notice that even on our hardest days, many among us showcase the best of humanity, displaying a spirit of courage and strength that transforms circumstances and outcomes….

At 9:57 AM, the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 carried out the first counter-action against an enemy that had orchestrated a surprise aerial attack on the United States of America. The heroes’ plan, formulated and ratified by a passenger vote just minutes after the hijacking of their plane, saved untold lives on the ground. These forty people also delivered from destruction the most likely target of Flight 93, the United States Capitol. Not even the Civil War halted the construction of our center of government, and thanks to the heroes on Flight 93, the dome, the enduring symbol of American democracy, stood tall at the end of the day. 9:57 AM was a transformative moment then, and it is a transformative story now.

The spirit and lives of those forty heroes continues in the retelling of what they did, the first organized action in what would become the “Global War on Terror.” They (for the most part) weren’t combat pilots (First Officer Leroy Homer had flown C-141s in Desert Storm and Somalia) or Navy SEALs. They were everyday travelers and aircrew. These “ordinary citizens” commissioned themselves to fight the opening battle in a global conflict. 9/11 would define a generation of Americans and be the catalyst for a million of its sons and daughters going to war.

Their actions collectively were extraordinary, they left us with an astonishing legacy and true tale to behold- a group of people who formed a team, made a plan, and led their way into history: saving lives, securing our government, protecting our democratic institutions, attaining a status unlike any other citizens (among their numbers - friends from three other nations) in America’s story. And we never forget their underlying, ultimate goal that day: getting home and seeing the people they loved.

We’ve also learned these forty were by no means “ordinary citizens” prior to 9/11. Each one of them had an extraordinary story of life, leadership, family, and friends that is worthy of telling and retelling. In The 9:57 Project, our volunteers are humbled to tell them to young people and add their own testimonies of service.

Here is how The 9:57 Project conducted that mission in 2023:

We began robust new collaborative efforts with these extraordinary non-profit organizations:

The Gary Sinise Foundation https://www.garysinisefoundation.org
Serve Our Willing Warriors https://www.willingwarriors.org
The Friends of Flight 93 https://www.flight93friends.org

Each of these organizations embodies excellence in mission and stewardship. We are honored they have said “YES” to helping The 9:57 Project! And we stand ready to do our part in any way we can to help them with their purposes.


During the first week of August, The 9:57 Project conducted its inaugural “Leadership Challenge” at the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run, the flagship location of Serve Our Willing Warriors. Willing Warriors has an absolutely charming, warm, and bucolic thirty-seven acre home-place in Northern Virginia. It provides the perfect environment for an immersive study of the leadership principles available in the Courage, Resilience, Empowerment, Service, and Teamwork (CREST) tenants of The 9:57 mission. The five-day program consisted of a field trip to the Flight 93 National Memorial, daily service activities, collaborative projects, and deep dives in leadership topics by 9:57 Veteran Volunteers, and special guest presenters. The Friends of Flight 93, the official nonprofit supporting partner of the Flight 93 National Memorial, was crucial in coordinating support at the Memorial for this event, and every activity at the Memorial in 2023.

We were honored and inspired to spend a couple of days with Debby Borza, mother of Deora Bodley, the youngest passenger on Flight 93. Debby shared her experiences in the aftermath of losing her daughter on September 11th, exemplifying what leadership looks like when a mother takes grief and transforms it into the beautiful service of others, in ways small and large, from empathic conversations with a passerby to dedicating a good part of her life to organizing political and financial support for a major National Memorial for the passengers and crew of Flight 93.

We were also very honored to hear from Retired General Carter Ham, former Combatant Commander of AFRICOM, and other distinguished postings over a forty-year Army career. General Ham related leadership lessons from the Four Star Level, emphasizing his responsibilities not only to the mission and unit, but fidelity to the Constitution and to the families who have sent their young to serve the nation.

We are excited to open applications for the 2024 Summer Leadership Challenge next week. Stay tuned at www.the957project.org/summer for more details!


In the wake of 9/11, Golden Globe Winner and Academy Award Nominee, Actor Gary Sinise, began a personal mission of supporting our Nation’s Defenders of Freedom - military service members and first responders. Gary’s “Self to Service” journey embarked him on a mission all over the world, from performing with the “Lieutenant Dan Band” as they provide entertainment to troops in combat zones, to celebrating Christmas with the families of our Nation’s fallen at Snowball Express events at Disney World. Gary has pursued countless ways of supporting our nation’s Veterans and first responders, reminding us all that “we can always do a little more.” To that end, Gary established the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF) in 2011, which raises tens of millions of dollars every year for deserving Veterans, first responders, and their families

Gary Sinise and his team embody a key idea that we relate to young people in The 9:57 Project - one doesn’t necessarily have to wear a uniform to serve the nation. All one has to do to is be on the lookout for a chance to serve, in ways small or large. Gary and his friends have demonstrated immense love for our nation’s Veterans and first responders and they’ve shown how an individual citizen or an organization can be a formidable force for good. We are beyond thankful that they have seen fit to assist The 9:57 mission.                  

On August 31, the Gary Sinise Foundation sponsored a two-day 9:57 Project trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, for the students and teachers of Wakefield School of the Plains, Virginia. Day one consisted of the normal 9:57 Veteran/student small group discussions, augmented by two Gary Sinise Foundation Ambassadors, Combat Medic Doc Jacobs, and Retired FDNY Firefighter Danny Prince.

Then we did something new and very special on day two. At the Memorial, Flight 93 Family members conducted small group discussions with the students, but first, these families, just as Debby Boorza had done several weeks earlier, provided their own sacred perspectives about the last resting place of their family members. Students, volunteers, and family members humbly walked the beautiful expanse of the Memorial together, from the overlook, to the wall of names, and all parts in between.

Ken Nacke lost his brother Joey on Flight 93, as did Gordie Felt, who lost his brother Ed. David Beamer’s son Todd was with them. Ken, Gordie, and David gave of themselves for hours, answering any and every student question, and just as Debby had done before, they demonstrated amazing strength in talking about the hard things of 9/11, but they also showed us what joy looks like when they talked of their loved ones. In doing all this, the Flight 93 Family Members modeled inspirational gratitude and resilience. I cannot adequately explain here how special these moments were.

Check out a short video recapping our time with the Gary Sinise Foundation here.


In late 2022, we began Operation CREST, a new leadership program that enables participating educators to conduct an after-school program on each of the 9:57 leadership tenets: Courage, Resilience, Empowerment, Service, and Teamwork (CREST). This new initiative built up immense momentum in 2023. The capstone event for CREST is a student-led service project, the current iteration of which is a student-hosted and produced podcast interview of Veterans. Pineville High School (Pineville, Kentucky) teacher Kim Yates began the first CREST chapter after 9:57 Project co-founder Pete Findler initially tested the concept with his students. Three more schools have signed up for the program in 2024. So far, student volunteers have produced fourteen different Veteran profiles, from retired NonComs to an active Lieutenant General. These interviews will be donated to the Library of Congress.

Learn more about Operation CREST here.


In May, The 9:57 Project conducted its first-ever “Resiliency Workshop” with students from Wakefield School at the Willing Warrior Retreat at Bull Run, Virginia. Our instructor was Tim Huggins, a Retired Sergeant First Class, who was qualified by the Army at the University of Pennsylvania to be a Resiliency trainer for his fellow Soldiers. Student participation and feedback during and after Tim’s presentation demonstrated immense promise for future events of this nature. The next day, Veteran volunteers and Wakefield students participated in a field trip to The National Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where, after walking the grounds and Visitors Center, they conducted Veteran and student small group discussions about 9/11, concentrating on Courage, Resilience, Service, and Teamwork.

Throughout 2023 The 9:57 Project continued to conduct Veteran/student engagements with several new schools: Butler County Juvenile Justice Center, in Hamilton, Ohio; Creekside Elementary School, in Harvest, Alabama; Gloucester High School, in Gloucester, Virginia; and Rudlin Torah Academy, in Richmond, Virginia.

In November, the Friends of Flight 93 invited Veterans who have participated in The 9:57 Project to take part in their “Connections to Flight 93” Event. In the past, this speaker series has featured Flight 93 family, first responders, and others with notable 9/11 stories. The Friends Executive Director Donna Gibson hosted a panel of four Veterans, asking them how they related the Flight 93 story to young people, and what the story and its lessons mean to them personally.

Watch the Connections event here.

The 9:57 Project continued to advance its mission on other fronts, pursuing new ways to attract Veteran volunteers, subject matter experts, and sponsors. In February, we conducted a community awareness event in Madison, Alabama, just outside of Huntsville, at a Veteran Owned Craft Distillery. Twenty-five Veterans and friends from the north Alabama area, including financial contributors Nova Bank and First Merit Solutions, gathered to hear about the 9:57 mission.

In October, the Rotary to Airline Group (RTAG), a nonprofit committed to helping Veterans secure jobs in civilian aviation, held their annual convention at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Texas. RTAG provided 9:57 a booth to recruit and inform potential volunteers. Five thousand Veterans attended this convention, and scores of them heard about The 9:57 Project.

Learn more about RTAG here.

In November, Pete Findler presented at the annual Virginia Association of Independent Schools conference in Richmond, Virginia. He was able to make connections with educators and administrators from across the state and generated a great deal of interest in our mission that will propel us forward into the future. In just a few months, in March of 2024, he will be presenting at the Virginia Council for Social Studies in Farmville, Virginia, to continue to spread the word about our work.

Learn more about VAIS here.

On September 11th, I briefed the Airline Pilots Association International (ALPA) Pilot Peer Support Group at the Annual Air Safety Forum in Chicago about The 9:57 Project and the resiliency benefits of transformative conversations and service. In September, we also met with the State of Alabama Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, Kent Davis, and his staff in Montgomery, briefing them on 9:57 activities and exploring collaboration opportunities in the future as it relates to Veteran resiliency. That same month we conducted a successful fundraiser at Advisory Board member Ashley Harper’s home in Northern Virginia. We are thankful to Ashley and her husband Doug for hosting a group of potential and actual benefactors to our mission. We are grateful to all for their help.

We are also grateful to Franklin, Tennessee Mayor Ken Moore for advising us on potential advocates for our mission and inviting me to brief and participate in “Find Hope Franklin,” a group of community leaders and organizations dedicated to imparting mental health resilience.

ON TO 2024!
We never imagined at the beginning of 2023 that this would be such an amazing year for our nonprofit. We are well aware that it has not been through our efforts that we are successful. It is only because of the support of amazing individuals and organizations that we are able to advance the 9:57 mission. To all of them, from the bottom of our hearts, we say, “Thank you.”

We are honored to be part of taking one of the hardest days of our nation’s history and finding a way to do good with it. We hope and pray that 2024 will be just as successful as 2023 in this effort, and we especially hope that you and your families have a joyful, peaceful, and inspirational year.

John Hamilton