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A dozen Army officials go ahead with a previously scheduled meeting at the Pentagon, unaware of the attacks in New York, and none of their colleagues interrupt the meeting to alert them to what is happening before the area of the building they are in is hit, at 9:37 a.m. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 40-41; Vogel 2007, pp. 429; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 18-19; WAMU 9/9/2011) The meeting is attended by the executive officers for the various directorates and operating agencies of the Army’s Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (ODCSPER). The executive officers’ meetings are held every other Tuesday, usually in the DCSPER conference room, at the northwest corner of a 100-yard-long cubicle bay on the Pentagon’s second floor.
Numerous Officers Attend Meeting - Today’s meeting is chaired by Colonel Philip McNair, the DCSPER’s executive officer. Those attending include Martha Carden, the DCSPER’s assistant executive officer; Major Stephen Long from Personnel Command; Lieutenant Colonel Robert Grunewald from the Information Management Office; Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Johnson from the Management Support Office; Lois Stevens from the Directorate of Military Personnel Management; Lieutenant Colonel Marion Ward from the Directorate of Plans, Resources, and Operations; Major Regina Grant from the Directorate of Human Resources; and Lieutenant Colonel Marilyn Wills, the DCSPER’s congressional affairs contact officer. Max Beilke from the Retirement Services Office attends the start of the meeting but leaves early to go to another meeting. Two visitors are also attending, to give a presentation at the end of the meeting: Colonel Larry Thomas and Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Nutbrown from the Office of the Director of Information Systems for Command, Control, Communications, and Computers. (Rossow 2003, pp. 39; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 18; Lofgren 2011, pp. 137-138)
Officers Are Not Alerted to Attacks on the WTC - The executive officers’ meeting starts at 9:00 a.m. (Lofgren 2011, pp. 145) Those attending take turns to give a brief update on recent activities. Routine issues are discussed this morning, such as a retirement party and an upcoming conference. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 18) However, no one in the conference room knows of the events in New York when the meeting commences. News of the first plane crash at the World Trade Center only begins to circulate in the large cubicle area outside the conference room shortly after the door has been closed on the meeting. (Rossow 2003, pp. 35, 39) And although many of the workers in the cubicle area then follow the coverage of the attacks on television, none of them interrupt the executive officers’ meeting to alert its participants to what is happening. (Swift 9/7/2002; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 19) “We did not know about the World Trade Center. We had no clue,” Carden will later recall. (Lofgren 2011, pp. 148) Furthermore, Lieutenant General Timothy Maude, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel—the man who runs the ODCSPER—is alerted to the first crash at the WTC at around 9:00 a.m. and then watches the coverage of the attacks on television, according to Colonel Karl Knoblauch, chief of the officer division in the Directorate of Military Personnel Management. And yet he does not alert his colleagues in the conference room to what is happening. (Rossow 2003, pp. 51)
'Large Fireball' Erupts in Conference Room When the Pentagon Is Attacked - Although the executive officers’ meetings usually last about 30 minutes, today’s meeting is going on for longer than usual. (Lofgren 2011, pp. 145) At 9:36 a.m., Wills looks at her watch and thinks the meeting is running late. (Rossow 2003, pp. 39-40; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 18-19) A minute later, Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon one floor below the conference room, passing within 20 feet of the room (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Vanover 9/5/2002; Vogel 2007, pp. 436) “[T]here was a tremendous explosion and I saw fire erupt through the ceiling,” McNair will recall. (Lofgren 2011, pp. 138) “There was a huge explosion to my 3 o’clock along the top of the wall and a large fireball came into the room,” Grunewald will say. (WAMU 9/9/2011)
Officers Think Explosion Is Caused by a Construction Accident or a Bomb - Since they are unaware of the attacks in New York, those in the executive officers’ meeting have no idea what has happened. “[M]ost of us assumed that a bomb had been detonated,” McNair will say. Because the conference room is in a newly renovated area of the Pentagon, some think the explosion is the result of work being done on the building. “Workmen were still there every day doing stuff,” Carden will recall. “And so many of the people in the conference room thought that, ‘Oh, geez, one of the workers hit a gas line.’” (Lofgren 2011, pp. 138, 148) McNair wonders if a crane has fallen onto the building, a pipe has burst, or something has collapsed. (Swift 9/8/2002) Twenty-nine ODCSPER employees are killed and 27 injured in the attack on the Pentagon. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 43)
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