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Myers and Sept. 11: "We Hadn't Thought About This"

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2001 – Air Force Gen. Richard Myers wasn't in the Pentagon when terrorists attacked it Sept. 11, but the event was still a nightmare for him.

Watching the events unfold on television was "like watching a bad movie," the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told American Forces Radio and Television Service Oct. 17.

Myers said he was on Capitol Hill that morning in the offices of Georgia Sen. Max Cleland to discuss his confirmation hearing to become chairman. While in an outer office, he said, he saw a television report that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

"They thought it was a small plane or something like that," Myers said. So the two men went ahead with the office call.

Meanwhile, the second World Trade Center tower was hit by another jet. "Nobody informed us of that," Myers said. "But when we came out, that was obvious. Then, right at that time, somebody said the Pentagon had been hit."

Somebody thrust a cell phone in Myers's hand. Gen. Ralph Eberhart, commander of U.S. Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, was on the other end of the line "talking about what was happening and the actions he was going to take."

On Sept. 11, Myers was vice chairman. He was sworn in as chairman Oct. 1. His predecessor, Army Gen. Henry Shelton, was "somewhere over the Atlantic" en route to Europe when the attacks occurred, so it was critical for Myers to get back to the Pentagon.

After learning that the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon hadn't been evacuated, Myers headed straight there and was soon joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld had been outside surveying the damage and checking the progress of rescue operations.

Myers said everyone just jumped in and did what had to be done in terms of command and control of the day. He said conflicting reports throughout the morning led to confusion in the Command Center.

"I didn't know what to believe at the time," he said. "We had these events, and then subsequently the airplane went down in Pennsylvania. We were trying to tie this together."

NORAD had by this time put fighter jets in the air in case other hijacked planes posed threats. "It was initially pretty confusing," Myers said. "You hate to admit it, but we hadn't thought about this."

He told of how his clothes smelled like smoke when he got home at the end of that long day, but then he focused on the tales of heroism that emerged.

"It was a terrible, terrible day," he said. "But as you would expect, the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, (and) civilians here in the Department of Defense acted with great heroism that day."

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