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Context of '8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001: Firefighters Who Later Respond to Pentagon Attack Are Attending Antiterrorism Training'

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The FBI’s Washington Field Office.The FBI’s Washington Field Office. [Source: FBI]The FBI’s Washington, DC, field office (WFO) holds a field training exercise in which various agencies practice their response to a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The exercise is led by Special Agent Christopher Combs on behalf of the FBI. (9/11 Commission 8/5/2003 pdf file; Combs 5/17/2011) Combs is the assistant WMD coordinator on the National Capital Response Squad—an antiterrorism rapid response unit—out of the WFO.
Exercise Is Based around a Chemical Weapons Attack - The exercise is based around the scenario of a terrorist attack, according to Combs. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 76; Combs 5/17/2011) Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department will later describe it as a “major chemical exercise,” presumably meaning it involves a hypothetical attack with a chemical weapon. It is held at an unspecified location in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia and is attended by “all the area fire departments, police departments, and the FBI,” Combs will say. (Combs 5/17/2011; Arlington TV 7/18/2011; Schwartz 10/8/2014) It is held on the Sunday before 9/11—September 9—according to Combs. (Kettl 2008, pp. 203; Combs 5/17/2011) Other accounts, however, will state that it is held on September 8, the Saturday before 9/11. (9/11 Commission 8/5/2003 pdf file; Arlington TV 7/18/2011; Schwartz 10/8/2014)
Exercise Improves the Response to the Pentagon Attack - Many people who participate in the exercise will be involved in the emergency response to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. (Kettl 2008, pp. 203) Combs, for example, will arrive at the Pentagon just minutes after the attack there and initially serve as the on-scene FBI commander at the crash site. (9/11 Commission 8/5/2003 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 76) The exercise reportedly has a beneficial effect on the ability of its participants to respond to the Pentagon attack. It is “one more of those opportunities for us to not only get to know each other but [also to] figure out how we were going to interoperate with each other,” Schwartz will comment. Consequently, on September 11, there will already be “a great deal of understanding about how we were going to work together on this kind of an incident.” (Arlington TV 7/18/2011) The FBI’s WFO and the Arlington County Fire Department, which participates in today’s exercise, regularly train together and often respond jointly to real-world incidents. (9/11 Commission 8/5/2003 pdf file)

At the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Training Academy, firefighters are taking part in what is described as a “counterterrorism class” or “antiterrorism exercises.” This is in preparation for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, at the end of this month. Numerous individuals who will later respond to the attack on the Pentagon are in attendance. These include some firefighters with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) at Reagan National Airport. (CBS News 9/17/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 69 and 78) Captain Scott McKay of the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) is also reportedly “attending a counterterrorism class with the FBI in the District [of Columbia].” (Davis 9/20/2001) And other ACFD personnel are reportedly “engaged in meetings in the District of Columbia, preparing for the upcoming International Monetary Fund (IMF) conference.” (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A4 pdf file) FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs, who is the regular FBI liaison to the fire services and routinely cross-trains with regional departments, is at the Fire Academy, “training firefighters in counterterrorism tactics.” Combs serves on the FBI’s National Capital Response Squad (NCRS), an antiterrorism rapid response unit. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 76) Members of the NCRS will be notified and recalled after the second WTC crash, and Combs will subsequently head to the Pentagon after hearing of the attack there, arriving at 9:49 a.m. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C45 and 1-1 pdf file)

The Navy Annex, located next to the Virginia State Police Barracks.The Navy Annex, located next to the Virginia State Police Barracks. [Source: Arlington County After-Action Report]The FBI establishes a command post for its response to the Pentagon attack at the Virginia State Police Barracks, overlooking the Pentagon. (Eversburg 11/2002) Around midday, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Blecksmith arrived at the Pentagon and took over from Special Agent Chris Combs as the FBI’s on scene commander. He had quickly decided that the area around the Arlington County Fire Department’s incident command post by the Pentagon was too crowded and lacked support facilities. He therefore decides it will be safer for the FBI to carry out its operations at the Virginia State Police Barracks, located next to the Navy Annex, a few hundred yards from the Pentagon. Along with Combs, Blecksmith establishes the FBI’s command post there, and starts moving the FBI up to it. The two men will spend most of the afternoon at the barracks, where they work on establishing a Joint Operations Center (JOC) at nearby Fort Myer. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A23 and C50 pdf file; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 178) The JOC will open early the following morning (see September 12, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161)

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