11 September 2001 - After a quick "jaunt" around the building I worked my way back into the "front office" of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, housed at the "Navy Annex" overlooking the Pentagon. There was a "buzz" in the secure conference room and I could hear "CNN breaking news." My friend Deborah Vinson, here TDY from the Joint National Test Facility to work our reorganization, met me in that passage way and asked, "I had heard?". "Heard what?" I replied. She motioned me to join her in the conference room where CNN was replaying the second aircraft impacting the world trade center in New York. The mood of all was already very somber and there was much talk and banter about the far-reaching implications of such a terrorist attack. Many BMDO people, Mike Cifrino our General Counsel; Rob Snyder the Executive Director; Deborah Vinson, were among several sitting down watching the events unfold. I just stood there in disbelief.
After a few moments, Lt Gen Ron Kadish, Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization entered the Secure Conference Room to pursue the day's activities and do real work. Accordingly, I and the other staff members all quickly exited the room, each commenting on the horrific sights, which had just been displayed in New York. At approximately 9:45am I entered the old office of my friend Gary Ramos', directly adjacent to the executive director. This office, with two nice windows and a great view of the monuments, the Capitol and the Pentagon was "good digs" by any Pentagon standard. This was the office I'd been sharing while working the BMDO reorganization. Being a beautiful sunny September day in Washington, and with a head full of the horror in New York, I walked in the office and stood peering out of the window looking at the Pentagon. I pondered the breaking events of the day, wondering what this world was coming to. As I stood there, I instinctively ducked at the extremely loud roar and whine of a jet engine spooling up. Immediately, the large silver cylinder of an aircraft appeared in my window, coming over my right shoulder as I faced the Westside of the Pentagon directly towards the heliport. The aircraft, looking to be either a 757 or Airbus, seemed to come directly over the annex, as if it had been following Columbia Pike - an Arlington road leading to Pentagon. The aircraft was moving fast, at what I could only be estimate as between 250 to 300 knots. All in all, I probably only had the aircraft in my field of view for approximately 3 seconds.
The aircraft was at a sharp downward angle of attack, on a direct course for the Pentagon. It was "clean", in as much as, there were no flaps applied and no apparent landing gear deployed. He was slightly left wing down as he appeared in my line of sight, as if he'd just "jinked" to avoid something. As he crossed Route 110 he appeared to level his wings, making a slight right wing slow adjustment as he impacted low on the Westside of the building to the right of the helo, tower and fire vehicle around corridor 5. What instantly followed was a large yellow fireball accompanied by an extremely bass sounding, deep thunderous boom. The yellow fireball rose quickly as black smoke engulfed the entire Westside of the Pentagon, obscuring the whole of the heliport. I could feel the concussion and felt the shockwave of the blast impact the window of the Annex, knocking me against the desk.
As I regained my composure I shouted loudly, "holy shit, they've hit the pentagon." Having just witnessed the CNN coverage of New York, I realized immediately that we were under the same attack. People within the interior of BMDO executive suite, where there were no windows, began to move towards the windows to view the fireball. Mr. Snyder yelled for them to get back from the windows and for everybody to get out now. The scramble began. Deborah and I, followed by Betsy Davis, Mr. Snyder's secretary, made haste towards the stairwell, and headed out the Arlington Cemetery side of the Navy Annex.
The movement of the military and civilian employees can only be described as akin to a "general quarters" call on a ship - people scrambled down the back stairwell. As I exited the BMDO command section, people were pouring out of the Navy Annex. Many individuals stopped momentary to gaze at the now billowing black smoke rising hundreds of feet over the Pentagon. I noted several of the secretaries were positively in tears. Betsy asked to use my cell phone. As we ran I fumbled to find it, forgetting that I had it in the compartment of my attaché case. To a person there was the look of concern, if not the pasty look of disbelief and shock. Fire alarms were now sounding and in the distance we could hear the emergency vehicles coming up Columbia Pike. The rapid response was truly amazing. Here only minutes after impact, the rescuers were in full action. Military and civilian alike poured on the street adjacent to the cemetery.
The combined BMDO - Marine Corps personnel began to occupy the street along to the Navy Annex South entrance. On the ridge along the perimeter fence, Marines could be seen running and heard yelling to clear the street for the emergency vehicles. People began to seek refuge behind the automobiles. Small groups and clusters of people huddled and began to theorize about the impact at the Pentagon and the events in New York.
Deborah and I sat behind a vehicle with Rob Snyder, the purpose being to use the car a shield should there be a follow up attack. Rob noted, "our world has just been forever changed." Indeed it had. Within moments there was a very loud bang, which seemed to come from the direction of Henderson Hall. At least, all the heads turned towards Henderson. It is possible that this was a secondary explosion from the Pentagon or possibly an F-16 going supersonic, as they had just assumed combat air patrol above the Washington metropolitan area. After this loud report, a Marine gunny, the only one seemingly "in command" directed all military and DoD employees to cross the fence line and seek cover in the adjacent Arlington National Cemetery. People began to cross the dark stone fence and enter the cemetery; the stronger helped many of the ladies in dresses pull themselves over the wall. Once over the wall, I noted that we were on a ridge - essentially higher ground that the street level and thus more vulnerable to any blast effects and shockwave from a potential hit on the Navy Annex. Thus, I recommended that my group go over the ridge so that there was "high ground" between the Navy Annex and us. The next moments were consumed by the efforts of all to get the precious cell phone call made. Eventually, I got through to both my home and that of my parents. Having achieved the only connection, I had my mother to copy down the phone numbers of spouses and loved ones of those around me, so she could let them know that they were safe. We constantly scanned skyward with our "eyeball radar," noting the sound of every jet engine seemed to make us jump. Fortunately, the only aircraft noise was the crisp distinctive ripping sound was of Air Force F-16's or the roar and popping of the rotor blades of a Park Police UH-1 helicopter surveying the damage. The only large fixed wing aircraft to appear was a gray C-130, which appeared to be a Navy electronic warfare aircraft, he seemed to survey the area and depart in on a westerly heading.
The true irony of the Arlington Cemetery experience was that the granite memorial protecting me belonged to a World War II vet. Here 60 years later, our WWII men are still protecting us. Rather ironic. We spent the next hours in speculation, occasionally getting a tid-bit of news from someone who got a call through on their cell phone. It was so odd to see battle dressed Marines atop Henderson Hall - but comforting. Gathering around one large cemetery oak tree, an Air Force Colonel, chief of staff from the National Missile Defense Joint Program Office, walked up and told us the latest scuddle butt from Gen Kadish was to go home if we had transportation. After several hours passed, in an impromptu carpool, I made my way to Prince William County. The whole trip home we discussed our retaliatory theories of who'd we hit and how hard we'd hit them. One thing was clear on this ride, that between the military and DoD civilian's riding in this vehicle, there was a clear agreement - let's clean up and help our wounded and then go reek a devastation upon someone the likes of which hasn't been seen since 1945.
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