Go to Body Text
National Park Service, September 11, 2001 Remembrance National Park Service - Sept 11 Remembrance - Washington DC Area
Home/Map About Director's Message Remembrances Related Links Credits
A U.S. Park Police helicopter flies over the Pentagon with dark smike from the building clearly visible.
More Arrow more photos


Federal Hall NM - NY
Statue of Liberty NM - NY
Gateway NRA - NY & NJ
Washington D.C. Area
Western Pennsylvania
Fort McHenry NM - MD
Independence NHP - PA
Shenandoah NP - VA
Mount Rainier NP - WA
Manzanar NHS - CA
Yosemite NP - CA
Golden Gate NRA - CA

Privacy Notice
Disclaimer and Ownership
      Washington DC Area, National Capital Region

  Interview / Oral History

Sgt. Ron Galey, U.S. Park Police
Interviewed by Mark Schoepfle, Ph.D., Cultural Anthropologist
January 17, 2002 at U.S. Park Police Headquaters.

 Go to Audio Excerpt section

MARK SCHOEPFLE: From the moment you knew something was happening, what did you do?

SGT. RON GALEY: We had the hangar door open. It was a nice day. Sargent Berni Stasulli came out and said, "you've got to come in here and see this. A plane just hit the World Trade Center." And we went inside, and at first all I saw was the smoke coming out of the Trade Center, and we were discussing, you know, that's a strange accident. You know, we were discussing how an accident like that could have occurred, and nobody at that time had thought it was a deliberate act. And while we were watching TV we saw the second aircraft come in and get the World Trade Center, and then we knew. And we started some further discussion as to what other potential targets might be. And the conversation led itself out into the hangar, and I -- the time is a little bit foggy, but ten, fifteen minutes later I heard a tremendous explosion and looked over towards the Pentagon, and saw smoke start to come out. Right at that exact moment the emergency tower line rang, and I answered that. And the air traffic controller said that they had a 757 go into the Pentagon, and they needed us to respond to the incident.

And I really didn't have to say anything to the crews. Everybody just knew in their hearts what had happened. And they were running, getting their gear, getting the aircraft cranked up. And I would estimate only about three and a half to four minutes passed before we had both aircraft in the air, and on the scene over at the Pentagon from the time the aircraft hit it. So that was pretty much the initial response.

We decided before we even left the ground that my crew would remain in the air, the second crew would land, the second aircraft would land, their crew would deploy, and assess the need for further Medivacs, and that type of thing. And that's what we did. I guess on the third or fourth orbit around the Pentagon, as we were getting reports from our ground people initially that there were going to be twenty-two patients to be flown out, and we were going to need more helicopters. We were trying to arrange for that. In the middle of all that, the air traffic controller called me on the radio, and said, we're getting so much smoke in the tower we can't function up here. And they turned the air traffic control space over to us.


SGT. RON GALEY: And I was told to contact NORAD from that point on, which I did. The first crew that had landed had loaded the first two patients on, and had departed toward the burn center. And they asked us to come in and land to pick up, possibly, more patients. Three had been flown out by now, and we [landed].

   Listen to Audio Excerpt (0.2 Mb Mp3)

  Start of Audio Exerpt

As I was landing, I was being notified by NORAD that they had an unauthorized aircraft inbound from the Pennsylvania area, with the estimated time of arrival approximately twenty minutes into D.C. So we were having some discussions -- crew discussions, what we should do. We decided we'd take our chances, and stay there, and do what we came there to do.

      End of Audio Exerpt

We found out that essentially everybody else that was going to be Medivaced out died. They weren't viable patients….Twenty-two patients initially, and then eleven patients once we were landing. And of the eleven, the only three that were actually viable were flown out already, and the other eight were dead.


SGT. RON GALEY: So from that point on, we assumed the posture of command and control of the air space around there. We lifted off, and started coordinating other aircraft coming in to the area. And in the middle of that -- now we're about an hour and a half into the scenario -- the chief of the Arlington County Fire Department requested us to land so he could go up in the aircraft, and direct his fire units in fighting the fire, which was out of control, and being very stubborn, very difficult for them to get to. So we had him in the aircraft for about another hour while he directed his firefighting efforts from the air. And after that we came back, refueled, and actually stayed here, because there was a lot of military aircraft starting to come in. Air space was getting crowded. We [then] got two requests -- one from the FBI, one from the Secret Service -- to go back up, and give them video downlink to the command center. So we did that for about an hour. Then we took up some FBI agents, and some Department of Defense people out of the Secretary of Defense's office so they could assess the damage and such.

And that pretty much wrapped up the immediate response for that. But for the rest of that day, we concerned ourselves with security -- further security threats. Tracking down U-Haul vans, Ryder trucks -- you can imagine. Just anything capable of carrying a bomb we were locating, identifying, and directing ground units into. So they were -- every truck in the city was stopped and searched. Then from that point on we started doing bridge controls. Checking under all the bridges, the approaches to the city. And then the Secret Service gave us a request of they wanted an aircraft in the air 24 hours a day; constantly, from that point on, over the top of the White -- in the P56, checking on the Memorials, the White House, the Capitol. And that's what we did for two days. We would relieve each other on station up in the air.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: How was that done? You'd relieve each other on station up in the air?

SGT. RON GALEY: Yes. One aircraft relieve the other aircraft, and it would come back. So that went on for about two days. And then we started backing down slowly but surely. But we had just almost continuous monitoring of all the memorials, all the high -- what we consider high park areas.


SGT. RON GALEY: Then boredom.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: Boredom, meaning?

SGT. RON GALEY: Boredom meaning just constant patrols. … Just [checking] anything and everything we, or our bosses could think of could be potential targets for someone. And, your imagination would control what the end of that might be. But we were doing it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for about a month. I think in that three week period we flew 150 hours of flight time, which is a lot of flight time. After three days the adrenaline rush left you. Just tedious, repetitious patrols. Kind of boredom and frustration, because we really didn't know what we were looking for, or who we were looking for. The FBI had not come out with the list of suspects. Then when they finally did, we had quite a long list of vehicles and such to look for.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: When did that come out?

SGT. RON GALEY: That came out about two weeks into the scenario.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: What happened then?

SGT. RON GALEY: Well, we had these vehicles to look for now. I mean, we were looking for specific things. We didn't find any of them. Some of the ground units found two or three up in Maryland, but we didn't locate any of those. [We were given instructions. For example,] we want you to go up and find three Ryder trucks coming from Richmond, headed towards D.C. They're in a convoy. We want them found and stopped. But that's all the information they would give us. We found them. They were stopped, identified, and as far as I know, nothing came of that. That's the type of thing we were getting every couple hours or so. … "Look, we have an orange and white Ryder truck, and we think he's using 70. It's got Pennsylvania tags on it. Go up and find it. We need to have that stopped and checked." So it was numerous examples of that type of thing over the next week or so.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: Okay. Then after this -- I'm judging this to be, or I'm sensing this to be kind of a phase in which you were sort of going out, and looking for specific vehicles that you were warned about.


MARK SCHOEPFLE: Was there another phase that came after that? What happened then?

SGT. RON GALEY: Well, as we got further and further away from the 11th, things started ratcheting down little by little. We weren't doing the hourly patrols anymore.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: When did they stop?

SGT. RON GALEY: They stopped about two weeks after the 11th. And we were pretty much responding to incident -- or responding to requests from the Joint Operations Center, or the FBI, or Secret Service, DOD. I mean, we were assisting so many different agencies during that time.

And the reason they kept using our air assets over here is A) we're the only ones who had permission to fly in the air space, other than a military flight. B) we're the only law enforcement with that kind of authority that they needed. And I guess C) we had an aircraft big enough, and capable enough to do what they wanted to have done.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: Was there a point at which you completed ratcheting down?

SGT. RON GALEY: If you're asking did we ever fall back into the way we operated prior to the 11th? No. Several things have changed permanently. Prior to the 11th we operated with a two-man crew: a pilot, and a paramedic. Now we operate -- the aircraft goes out of here with three people on board the aircraft. We found that to be optimal. Indispensable, actually, for doing what we needed to do. Those are large aircraft, they're very technically complicated, and the third person was proving to be invaluable. And so we made that a permanent switch.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: Okay. You said you had a pilot and a paramedic. What was this third person doing?

SGT. RON GALEY: The third person, essentially, would be operating radios, and infrared. Another pair of eyes.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: Looking back on this situation, are there any kinds of lessons, or -- I guess if this were to happen, heaven forbid, again, would things be done differently this time?

SGT. RON GALEY: Not from an aviation standpoint. We were well-prepared. For the role that we played, we were very well-prepared for it. And I would have to cite the Air Florida incident back in 1982 that [prepared] us for what we did on the 11th. I can assure you there's very few places in this country where you're going to get that kind of aircraft response with that amount of crew, with that amount of capability that quickly.

MARK SCHOEPFLE: Within less than five minutes.

SGT. RON GALEY: That's right. [After the Air Florida incident] we went from an aircraft that cost $500,000 to one that cost 6 million dollars. We went from a rope that you threw out of the helicopter to a $250,000 state-of-the-art voice system. We went from not training our paramedics to even get out of the aircraft…to mandatory swift water rescue classes. Where they're in the water -- they're coming down on the cable, they get in the water, and they're learning how to rescue people, and getting certified in that. Our pilots -- part of the training now is special use training where they're doing hoisting, and rappelling, and long-line work, and that type of thing…

Air Florida was a pivotal point that prepared us for the 11th. Are we prepared for anything that they can throw at us? I wouldn't want to be stupid enough to say that. But are we well-prepared for a terrorist incident from the Park Service aviation assets in Washington, D.C., I would have to say absolutely we are. You know, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week you've got a three man crew with this kind of aviation asset, with these aircraft. And as long as the financial commitment's being made by the Park Service and Park Police to keep that asset up and running, it will be there. And it's proven.

We were there for Air Florida. We were there for the Washington Monument takeover. We were there for the -- when the Metropolitan Police Headquarters was taken over, and all those people were shot. We did all the Medivacs out of that. We did the Medivacs from the Capitol when Capitol policemen were shot over there. We've always been there. And one of the reasons -- you know, they say location, location, location. You know, we've got a great location right here.

September 11, 2001 Oral History Documentation Project
National Capital Region, National Park Service