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Context of '(12:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001: AWACS Plane Takes Off from a Base in Oklahoma and Then Escorts Air Force One'

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Ben Robinson.Ben Robinson. [Source: US Air Force]An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane is directed toward Sarasota, Florida, where President Bush is currently located, and will accompany Air Force One as it carries Bush back to Washington, DC. The AWACS has been flying a training mission off the east coast of Florida (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD now instructs it to head toward Sarasota, on Florida’s west coast.
Pilot Thinks This Is an Exercise - Several months previously, Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, made arrangements with Brigadier General Ben Robinson, the commander of the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, for AWACS support to be provided during training exercises simulating attacks on the United States. As Arnold will later recall, the pilot of the AWACS that NORAD now contacts “thought it was an exercise.” However the pilot is then told “what happened at the World Trade Center” and realizes “his responsibility was to follow the president.” Arnold will say: “We told him to follow Air Force One, and he asked the question we all asked: ‘Where is it going?’ We said: ‘We can’t tell you. Just follow it.’” [Filson, 2002; Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 86-87]
AWACS Escorts President to Washington - The time the AWACS plane gets close enough to Air Force One to be of assistance to it is unclear. According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, by around 10:30 a.m., it has not yet arrived to protect the president’s plane. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 107] Arnold will recall that NORAD maintains “the AWACS overhead the whole route,” as Air Force One flies to Barksdale Air Force Base, then Offutt Air Force Base, and then back to Washington. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
AWACS Is a 'Wonderful Asset' - According to Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, AWACS planes “give you the big picture in the sky. They’re able to identify what’s a friend, what’s a foe.” Rosenker, who will fly with Bush on Air Force One after it takes off from Sarasota (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), says the AWACS is “a wonderful asset to have up there for us, it tremendously helped us to be able to guide for where we needed to go, to what potential problems we might encounter.… [I]t was an important part of what we needed to do to guarantee the safety of the president of the United States.” [White House, 8/29/2002]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Larry Arnold, Mark Rosenker, 552nd Air Control Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base.Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Win McNamee / Reuters]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, lands at Barksdale Air Force Base—the home of the B-52 bomber—near Shreveport, Louisiana. [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; BBC, 9/1/2002] The president’s plane was escorted by fighter jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard as it came in to land (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Bush, 2010, pp. 132] Two of those fighters now land at Barksdale with Air Force One while the other two remain airborne, flying a combat air patrol over Shreveport and Bossier City. Aircraft and personnel at Barksdale were participating in the major training exercise Global Guardian this morning, before the terrorist attacks began (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), and after touching down, Air Force One taxies past 40 fully loaded B-52s. [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file; Draper, 2007, pp. 141] Air Force personnel dressed in full combat gear and brandishing M-16s then set up a perimeter around the plane. [Time, 9/14/2001] Bush initially remains on board, gathering more intelligence. There is no mobile gangway on the tarmac and so he is unable to get off through his usual door in the top half of Air Force One. Instead, the flight crew opens a hatch near the belly of the plane and lowers a set of retractable stairs while Bush continues working the phones. The president finally gets off the plane just before noon and is then escorted away from it amid tight security (see (11:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 111-112] The Daily Telegraph will later comment, “The official reason for landing at Barksdale was that Mr. Bush felt it necessary to make a further statement (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001), but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that—as there was no agreement as to what the president’s movements should be—it was felt he might as well be on the ground as in the air.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Bush will remain at Barksdale Air Force Base for almost two hours before taking off again on Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Salon, 9/12/2001; 2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: 147th Fighter Wing, George W. Bush, Barksdale Air Force Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Doug Lomheim.Doug Lomheim. [Source: US Air Force]An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane takes off from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and subsequently accompanies Air Force One as it makes its way back to Washington, DC, after leaving Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. [Air Force Print News, 9/9/2011; Kennedy et al., 2012, pp. 61] An AWACS, also called the E-3 Sentry, is a modified Boeing 707 that provides surveillance, command, control, and communications to military commanders. [New York Times, 9/23/1995; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/16/2006; US Air Force, 9/22/2015] The AWACS that scrambles from Tinker Air Force Base is apparently piloted by Air Force reservists Major Doug Lomheim and Captain Greg Miller. The two men had been preparing for a student training sortie on their E-3 early this morning but then learned of the crashes at the World Trade Center during a delay due to one of the plane’s engines failing to start. After being told they would be assigned to do something in response to the terrorist attacks, they sent their students back to the training squadron and gathered their “NORAD material.” Lomheim and Miller take off from Tinker Air Force Base at around midday and check in with NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS). SEADS instructs them to head to Barksdale Air Force Base, where Air Force One, with President Bush on board, recently landed (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). “We want you to escort [Bush] wherever he goes,” they are told. Their plane goes into an orbit over western Louisiana while Bush is at Barksdale. They then accompany Air Force One after it leaves the base (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001) and orbit overhead after it lands at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). They continue following the president’s plane after it takes off from Offutt and heads toward Washington (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Print News, 9/9/2011; Kennedy et al., 2012, pp. 61] An AWACS plane that had been flying a training mission was instructed to accompany Air Force One earlier on, after it took off from Sarasota, Florida (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). Whether that plane is escorting Air Force One while Lomheim and Miller’s plane follows it is unclear. [Filson, 2003, pp. 86-87]

Entity Tags: Doug Lomheim, Greg Miller (USAF), George W. Bush, Southeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base.Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Reuters]Air Force One takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to fly President Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Bush has been at Barksdale, base personnel have refueled Air Force One and restocked it with provisions for its continuing journey, on the basis that it may have to serve as the president’s flying command center for the foreseeable future. [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; 2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 pdf file; BBC, 9/1/2002]
Reduced Number of Passengers on Board - For security reasons, the number of people traveling on Air Force One has been reduced (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145-146] Those continuing with the president include Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, his communications director Dan Bartlett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe. The number of Secret Service agents accompanying the president has been reduced, as has the number of reporters. The five remaining journalists are Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and sound technician. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/12/2001]
President Given Thumbs-up by Airmen - Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, has been at Bush’s side for most of his time at Barksdale, and accompanies the president as he is being driven across the base to Air Force One. The president passes a row of B-52 bombers and is given a thumbs-up by the planes’ crew members. Keck explains to Bush that this means the troops “are trained, they’re ready, and they’ll do whatever you want them to.” Military police salute and other Air Force crew members cheer the president as he passes them. [American History, 10/2006 pdf file]
Fighter Escort Rejoins Air Force One - Air Force One is being guarded by soldiers with their guns drawn when Bush reaches it, and a pack of military dogs is patrolling the tarmac. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117-118] After the plane takes off, two F-16 fighter jets pull up alongside it to provide an escort. [American History, 10/2006 pdf file] These are presumably the same fighters, belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file]
Destination Chosen Due to 'Continuity of Government' Plan - Bush’s destination, Offutt Air Force Base, is home to the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls the nation’s nuclear weapons. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] Bush will later say the decision to head there was based on Offutt’s “secure housing space and reliable communications.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] The base’s secure teleconferencing equipment will allow the president to conduct a meeting of his National Security Council later in the afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 119; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19, 26] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Offutt has been chosen as the president’s next destination “because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service wanted a place where the president could spend several days, if necessary.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] But according to White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the decision to head to Offutt instead of back to Washington, DC, was due to a plan called “Continuity of Government.” This program, which dates back to the Reagan administration, originally planned to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. It was activated for the first time shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Barksdale Air Force Base, Thomas Keck, Ann Compton, Ari Fleischer, Doug Mills, George W. Bush, Gordon Johndroe, US Secret Service, 147th Fighter Wing, Sonya Ross, Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The entrance to Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker.The entrance to Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker. [Source: CBC]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, lands at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, accompanied by two F-16 fighter jets. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 89; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] Offutt is the home of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls America’s nuclear weapons. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; US Air Force, 9/6/2011] The large base is one of the most heavily defended in the US. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Personnel there were told earlier in the day that the president might come to Offutt during the crisis but they only received confirmation that he would be landing at the base about 20 to 30 minutes ago. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/9/2016] They have, however, taken the initiative to start preparing for his arrival. “There were pretty wide-scale preparations going on anticipating that the president might come, without knowing for sure, even before we got notice that he was coming,” Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, will later recall. “We’d started to evacuate the main quarters that could be used for VIPs and install some of the protection there that’d be needed in case [Bush] needed to spend the night,” Mies will say. [NET News, 12/27/2011; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Journalists on Air Force One were not told they would be landing at Offutt. However, they learned what was happening when they saw a local television channel showing the plane arriving at the base (see (2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 198; Sammon, 2002, pp. 120-121; Sylvester and Huffman, 2002, pp. 138] Bush will get off the plane about 10 minutes after it lands and then be taken to an underground command center (see (3:00 p.m.-3:10 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Salon, 9/12/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 89] He will conduct a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference while he is at the base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] Personnel at Offutt were the middle of a major training exercise called Global Guardian when America came under attack this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), although the exercise has now been canceled (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; Schmitt and Shanker, 2011, pp. 22]

Entity Tags: Offutt Air Force Base, George W. Bush, Richard Mies

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bush speaking to Cheney shortly after leaving Offutt.
Bush speaking to Cheney shortly after leaving Offutt. [Source: White House]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, takes off from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and heads for Washington, DC. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Draper, 2007, pp. 143] The president’s plane landed at Offutt at 2:50 p.m. While he was at the base, Bush conducted a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 89, 91; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] Against objections from the Secret Service, he has announced that he will be returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 28; Washington Times, 10/8/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 135]
Bush Thanks Personnel at Offutt - Bush waved to personnel at the base as he was making his way out to his plane. “We were working at our desks and all of a sudden, there was the president striding down the hallway,” Julie Ziegenhorn, a public affairs officer, will later describe, adding, “He walked right out the front door, waving to us.” He shouted to the personnel, “Thanks for all you’re doing!”
Pilot Was Surprised that Bush Is Leaving - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, was incredulous when he was told the president was getting ready to leave, since he’d expected Bush to stay at Offutt for a much longer time. He had been in an office at the base when a young airman ran up to him and said, “It looks like the president is heading back to the plane.” He dismissed the airman, saying, “It probably wasn’t the guy,” but the airman replied, “No, I’m pretty sure I just saw him drive by.” Tillman then raced back to Air Force One and found the president waiting for him at the top of the stairs by the cockpit. Bush told him: “Tillman, we got to get back home. Let’s get back home.”
Reporters Are Allowed to Say What Bush Is Doing - Reporters who have been traveling with Bush are finally permitted to describe the president’s movements on the record. “I called my bureau and told them that the president was heading back to Washington and would address the nation from the Oval Office,” Ann Compton of ABC Radio will recall. [US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Bush Tells His Wife, 'See You at the White House' - As Air Force One is taking off, Bush calls his wife, Laura, who is at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington (see (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), to let her know he is returning to the capital. He tells her: “I’m coming home. See you at the White House. I love you. Go on home.” After talking to her, he feels comfortable enough to make a joke. “If I’m in the White House and there’s a plane coming my way, all I can say is I hope I read my Bible that day,” he says to his aides. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17, 28; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Laura Bush, Julie Ziegenhorn, Ann Compton, Mark Tillman, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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