Air Force ROTC cadet leads 9/11 Remembrance Vigil flag project

Student Haleigh Freiner-Mess wants community to remember innocent lives lost

RIT Air Force ROTC Squadron Commander Haleigh Freiner-Mess leads the campus’ 9/11 Remembrance Vigil flag project. Here, Freiner-Mess, left, is seen graduating from field training this past summer at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. The insignia that she earned indicates that she is a member of the Professional Officer Course and responsible for training and teaching the newer cadets in the Air Force ROTC program.

Cadet Haleigh Freiner-Mess is a squadron commander in RIT’s Arnold Air Society, which is an Air Force ROTC cadet service organization. The third-year psychology student from Canaseraga, N.Y., recently became a member of the Professional Officer Course and is responsible for training and teaching the newer cadets in RIT’s Air Force ROTC program. She also oversees three cadets who are on the planning committee for the 9/11 Remembrance Vigil on campus.

Explain the importance of RIT’s 9/11 Remembrance Vigil flag project.

The flag project is known as the 9/11 Remembrance Vigil, which has been hosted by the Arnold Air Society for more than six years. This flag fundraiser and remembrance vigil are to make sure none of us ever forgets the lives that were lost during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. During this vigil, we hold a moment of silence at each of the times the planes crashed: 0846, 0903, 0937, and 1003. There is also a color guard that presents and retires the colors.

This year, we have a joint color guard with RIT’s Army ROTC battalion. In addition to the campus community, an invitation has been extended toward the University of Rochester Navy/Marine ROTC battalion, RIT Ambulance, RIT Public Safety, Henrietta Fire Department, and the Rochester Police Department. The funds we raise during this event goes to organizations that support veterans. Last year, we donated to Hope for the Warriors. This year, the proceeds will go to Families of Freedom. The 9/11 Remembrance Vigil is one of our biggest community service events.

What do you hope the campus community remembers about 9/11?

As members of the campus community walk down the Quarter Mile on their way to class or meeting with friends, I hope they take a moment to acknowledge the 2,997 flags flying on the Student Alumni Union lawn. I hope that when they see this memorial, they think about all of the families who don’t have a loved one with them this year. I also hope that this memorial draws members of the Rochester community together in remembrance.

What does 9/11 mean to you?

To me, remembering 9/11 and all of the lives that were lost is extremely important. The 2,997 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, and colleagues who left their loved ones behind is something that cannot and should not be forgotten. So many innocent lives were taken and we, as a community, need to remember them.

What are your future plans?

When I graduate in May 2023, I will be commissioned into the Air Force as an officer. I hope to be a Combat System Officer and follow the weapons training track. I have chosen this track because I have been able to interact with several officers who have done the same and that has inspired me. Once I get this post after graduating, I would be attending my training at Naval Air Station Pensacola before I get my first duty station assignment. 

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