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Profile: Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321)

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321) was a participant or observer in the following events:

An F/A-18A Hornet belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321.An F/A-18A Hornet belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321. [Source: Robert Carlson / Naval Aviation News]A US Marine with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321) calls a friend of his at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to ask what his unit can do to assist the military response to the attacks. (Spencer 2008, pp. 188)
Former Marine Heads to NEADS - Trey Murphy is a former Marine who now works as a weapons controller at NEADS. He learned of the first crash in New York while still at home. After seeing the second crash on television, he realized it was a coordinated attack and hurried to work. When he arrived on the NEADS operations floor at around 9:45, the head of the weapons team, Major James Fox, informed him that fighter jets were coming up from Selfridge and Toledo; both sets of jets had been told to contact NEADS and would require instructions. (Spencer 2008, pp. 179-180)
Marine Calls Murphy - After Murphy reportedly checks in the F-16 pilots from Selfridge Air National Guard Base and gives them orders (see (9:56 a.m.-10:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), his cell phone rings. On the other end is a friend of his from VMFA-321, a Marine Corps Reserve squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland that flies the sophisticated F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. Murphy’s friend says: “Dude, get us in the war. I’ve got wrench-turners on our planes uploading weapons.” He then asks, “What can we do?” Normally, Murphy would not issue orders to the Marine squadron. As author Lynn Spencer will explain, VMFA-321 trains “to deploy overseas and they respond only to the US Joint Forces Command, commonly known as JiffyCom, and based in Norfolk, Virginia.” However, with the day’s unprecedented circumstances, Murphy instructs, “Convince your higher-ups at JiffyCom to get you transferred over to us!” Minutes later, Murphy is called by a general from VMFA-321. By this time, his attention is devoted to dealing with the possibly hijacked aircraft, Delta 1989. But before hanging up, he exclaims: “General! Can’t talk! But we could use your airplanes.” (DC Military (.com) 6/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 188)

F-18 fighter jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321) arrive in the airspace over Washington, DC, to assist the air defense of the capital, but NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is initially unable to authenticate the pilots’ identities. (Spencer 2008, pp. 264-265) Earlier on, a Marine with VMFA-321 called Trey Murphy, a friend of his who works as a weapons controller at NEADS, to offer his unit’s assistance. Minutes later, Murphy told a general from VMFA-321 who called NEADS, “[W]e could use your airplanes” (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 188)
Pilot Gives Incorrect Authentication Code - Now Murphy tries to get the authentication code from one of the Marine pilots who has arrived over Washington, which will show that he is who he says he is, and that his orders are legal. However, the pilot responds with incorrect authentication, giving a code that has too many letters. Murphy again tries to authenticate him, but the pilot responds, “Dude, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”
Weapons Controller Improvises Plan of Action - Murphy quickly realizes what the problem is: The VMFA-321 fighters are not normally part of NORAD, and so do not have NORAD authenticators. Instead, their authenticators are from the Air Combat Command. Realizing this is a problem that will recur as more non-NORAD fighters get airborne, Murphy instructs his fellow weapons controller Michael Julian to help him call the squadron commanders of the non-NORAD jets that are taking off to patrol the Northeast US, so as to resolve the issue. Doing so is critically important because, as author Lynn Spencer will point out, “The authentication system is set up to ensure that a pilot knows he is being given a valid order, and a pilot cannot legally comply with an order unless he can authenticate it first.” Murphy calls VMFA-321 at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, over a secured line and quickly improvises a plan of action. Soon after, faxes are sent off over secured lines to the squadrons that are launching aircraft, to make sure they all follow this plan.
Murphy Checks in Marine Pilots - The Marine pilots that have arrived over Washington have now devised their own plan for checking in with NEADS. Since Murphy is a former Marine, some of them know him and recognize his voice. They have therefore decided they will accept orders from him alone. After one of the pilots insists to another NEADS weapons controller that he will only take orders from Murphy, Murphy gets on the line and checks him in, saying: “All right! Devil 1-1… I authenticate.… You’re in the [combat air patrol]. Here’s your mission.… I’m turning you over to my controller.” After the pilot responds, “Roger that!” Murphy checks in the rest of the Marine fighters. (Spencer 2008, pp. 264-265)

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