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September 21, 2001
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Training exercise quickly became reality

EATONTOWN — In an eerie quirk of fate, Fort Monmouth was just embarking on a test of emergency response capabilities on the morning of Sept. 11 when word reached the base of the attack on the World Trade Center.

Materials had been placed at the gates so they could be barricaded, Department of Defense police were in position and other personnel were gathered in the Post Theater shortly before 9 a.m. in anticipation of responding to a fake chemical attack from terrorists.

"Just as this was about to kick off, we were advised of the World Trade Center attack and real world events overtook the exercise,’’ said Timothy L. Rider, an Army spokesman at Fort Monmouth.

The Army Communications-Electronics Command had sent out a notice earlier, warning that anyone not conducting official business would be turned away from Fort Monmouth during the planned exercise Sept. 11 and 12 when personnel would be deployed and measures taken as in a real emergency.

The base was geared to go into high-alert status as part of the exercise and, after two airplanes hijacked by terrorists crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, it did. It went to Force Protection Condition Delta, generally referred to as Threat Con Delta, meaning not only people who aren’t assigned to Fort Monmouth but supplies are not permitted to enter the base.

The condition scaled back before the weekend to Force Protection Condition Charlie, which still bars unauthorized persons but allows supplies to enter the base.

"It underscores the reason we do the exercise,’’ Rider said of the way the real-life events in New York superseded the exercise. "We do it so the situation is not foreign to them (the soldiers) and they react without heightened anxiety or chaos.’’

— Sherry Conohan