The Pentagon--military police operations following the September 11th attack.
I could see the bakery's glass cases still filled with trays of cookies. The flower shop, bank, and Pentagon Federal Credit Union were all there, yet something was very wrong with the scene. Even though I was on familiar ground, it looked so different. I never imagined that I would be alone in this part of the building, especially at noon on a duty day. I stood for a few moments and turned in a full circle, taking in a sight I never imagined I'd see.
As I negotiated my way through the smoke, I called my wife, not only to reassure her, but also to reinforce that I was not dreaming. Here I was, the director of security for less than 2 months, facing the unbelievable. What was an office building yesterday was a theater of war today. I shook off this feeling and made my next move. I found Sergeant First Class (SFC) Harry Byrd, the acting NCOIC of my directorate--a new office under the Office of the Administrative Assistant (OAA) to the Secretary of the Army. It is comprised of an ad hoc group of soldiers and civilians, of which, I am the only MP.
All of my personnel were evacuated following the attack, except for SFC Byrd. However, we learned that seven soldiers and one civilian of the OAA were missing. We made repeated forays into the impact area to search for these people, specifically, for the new first sergeant whose office was within 20 feet of the collapsed section of the building. (We later learned that of these people, two had died, two were admitted to the hospital, and four escaped with only minor injuries; our first sergeant was one of the survivors.)
The aircraft had crashed, at ground level, into an area between the fourth and fifth corridor of the E-ring. This area had recently been renovated and only reoccupied within the past few months. Words cannot describe the sights, sounds, and feelings we experienced while searching along what remained of the E-ring. As we moved toward the impact point, the thick smoke and intense heat went with us; we trudged over broken equipment and flattened walls and through about a foot of water. Water continued to pour down from broken pipes and the hoses of the Arlington Fire Department.
We rounded the apex and started counting down room numbers in the blackened corridor, passing the last legible number 1E531. The collapsed portion of the building had cut right through the E-ring. Small fires burned on both sides of us where walls once stood. You could see right through the center of the building to the C-ring. The only human remains were completely charred and, after our second trip in search of survivors, I knew that our chances of finding anyone alive were slim.
SFC Byrd assisted in the casualty triage area in the center courtyard, while I coordinated with John Pugrud, the Deputy Chief of the Defense Protective Service (DPS). As we discussed where to place our limited security personnel, I watched SFC Byrd and several other soldiers laying out casualty bags, in rows, on the grass. Mr. Pugrud and I just gazed at the unbelievable image, as the smoke-filled sky turned the day into a twilight scene from a black and white movie. Once the security personnel augmenting the DPS were employed, I contacted the Army operations center and queried about the possibility of additional MP. An action officer informed me that we would have MP at the building by morning.
Through the smoke in the center courtyard, I saw Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4) Marshal McCants guiding General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, straight to my location. (CW4 McCants was assigned to the protective services unit of the 701st MP Group and was the senior member of the general's protective service detachment.) General Shelton asked for a situation report and requested that I take him into the impact area. I gave a quick rundown of the operation but advised against going into the area. CW4 McCants echoed my concerns--fires were still burning out of control. General Shelton nodded, shook my hand, and told me to pass on to "all" the MP that they were doing a great job.
At that point, I believe I was the only MP directly involved with Pentagon operational security. There were slightly over 300 DPS officers on duty at the time, yet due to the MP brassard on my arm, I was singled out as being in control of the situation. General Shelton's comment reinforced my belief that "green tabbers" always assume that when MP are present, the situation is well under control.
Note: A short time following the attack, I took an MP brassard from a personal display in my office and wore it to better identify myself to the multiple agencies on the scene. The brassard was from the 89th MP Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas. No one questioned the patch, yet they all reacted to its white letters--MP.
As morning broke over Washington, fires were still spreading under the Pentagon's green slate roof; smoke could be seen from as far south as Lorton, Virginia. Sergeant Randall Peterson, DPS, told me that some of the MP had arrived. I was introduced to Captain Jon Black, commander of the 200th MP Company (Escort Guard), Maryland National Guard (MDNG). He had arrived with two platoons of about 60 personnel. He told me that besides the 200th MP Company, advanced elements of the 290th MP Company, MDNG, were arriving for duty--the 200th was assigned interior security and the 290th, exterior security.
The units lacked equipment and had a significant number of non-MOS-qualified MP. In fact, Captain Black was an infantryman, and three of his four lieutenants had not yet attended the MP officer basic course. Even with these shortfalls, the companies' arrival, within 24 hours of the attack, provided instant operational stability and much-needed reinforcement to the DPS for maintenance of force-protection-level Delta. Command and control (C2) issues of the 200th and 290th were still in question, but by 14 September, the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 115th MP Battalion, MDNG, deployed to the Pentagon and assumed C2 for them.
C2 of the MP battalion became a hotly contested issue. The Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed that they be placed under the operational command of the commander, Military District of Washington (MDW), and operational control of the chief, DPS. Understanding this command structure is difficult in that DPS falls under Washington Headquarters Services, an agency of the Department of Defense (DOD). Thus, the MP were commanded by MDW yet controlled by DOD. Surprisingly, the reason this structure worked was based on the leaders personalities as opposed to unity of command or maintenance of clear lines of communication. With the ongoing crisis, there was minimal bureaucratic infighting and each of the organizations focused on the mission. The MP command structure created a questionable precedent, which worked in this instance but could have hindered operations in a different environment. The location of the operation may be the most important factor in the functionality of this type of command structure. Those who work in the Pentagon and National Capital Region (NCR) are experienced in joint, ad hoc, and mission-dependant relationships with blurred lines of responsibility.
The confusion as to who was in charge of the various areas of the building was actually an advantage in the recovery operation. With no clear guidance on area access, my directorate assumed control of the damaged areas of the building surrounding the actual impact area. The Arlington Fire Department was in operational control of the crash site and worked tirelessly to bring the fires under control and search for survivors. The fact that the MP asserted authority over the damaged outlying areas of the Pentagon was not only unopposed but actually applauded. This significant fact allowed for immediate recovery operations to begin and streamlined the approval process for entry into damaged areas.
There was significant pressure to reestablish the information network rapidly and recover critical automation hardware even with the fires raging in the ceilings above the fifth floor. Mr. Mike Selves, director of the Information Management Support Center (IMCEN), was killed along with the other senior leaders of the directorate. Mr. Neil Shelly, acting director, rallied the survivors and coordinated numerous contractors to reestablish the network. They announced that it was imperative that they gain access to the server rooms in the damaged areas--right up to the actual impact point.
My directorate controlled the operation and used joint MP and DPS teams to escort groups of IMCEN automation experts and governmental contractors into the damaged areas. Chief John Jester of DPS assigned several of his officers to my directorate to expedite emergency recovery of critical automation equipment. This multi-agency, military, and civilian operation was exceptionally successful and directly impacted the rapid reconstruction of the information infrastructure and automation network. Mr. Seth Werbin, a contractor with Lockheed-Martin, sent the following note to Mr. Dov Zakheim, the Under Secretary of Defense:
"I have no way of publicly recognizing the members of the Army military police for their outstanding performance during the crisis. Any time I asked them to help us gain access to areas that were damaged, whether by the initial impact or by the subsequent fire or water, they never said no. The MP helped us facilitate getting critical networking equipment as well as the servers out, sometimes going into areas where we had water up to the knees, and many times going in to areas that still had fires burning a short distance away. I realize that the Lockheed team got a huge amount of credit, but people need to know that the main reason we were able to restore the network in 36 hours, and recover 191 servers for IMCEN, was in a very large part due to the military police. "
This note ultimately made its way through channels to the Secretary of the Army.
In the days following the attack, the MP and DPS developed a joint plan for security of the Pentagon and for rapid response throughout the NCR. In general--
* The 115th assumed responsibility for the impact site and the immediate surrounding areas. (In early October, the 503d MP Battalion [Airborne] assumed these duties.)
* The DPS maintained static positions within the building and provided liaison officers to the MP down to company level.
* The 290th worked with the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the DPS, the Office of Special Investigation, the Naval Investigative Service, and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (USACIDC) in controlling the external areas of the Pentagon in the vicinity of the actual impact area.
* The 200th was responsible for the internal portions of the Pentagon and controlled access routes through the damaged areas into the impact site. It provided escorts for critical equipment and classified document recovery. At times, after coordinating with both the FBI and CID, members of the 200th provided supervised escorts into the actual FBI crime scene on missions deemed critical to national defense.
The soldiers of the 200th and 290th performed in an exemplary manner under intense pressure for access. They maintained control of the perimeter even in the face of senior governmental officials and celebrities who wanted access to the impact area.
In the weeks following the attack, control of significant segments of the building were cleared by the FBI and subsequently turned over to the MP for personal, professional, and operational item recovery. This mission was complicated by multiple environmental concerns including extensive mold growth and spore contamination caused by high humidity, water, and restricted airflow and the lead and asbestos contamination in the black soot that covered nearly every square inch of exposed surface.
The MP used the manpower of the HQDA Special Security Office (SSO) to organize the recovery operation. The center courtyard of the Pentagon became a rally point for organizations to sign in with SSO representatives and validate a requirement for entry into damaged areas. Once a requirement was validated, the organization received a scheduled time to enter its former office space. Members from the organization received an environmental and structural safety briefing, met their MP and DPS escort team, donned environmental protective gear, and entered the offices for the first time since the impact. Adding to the emotional strain that many felt were environmental issues that prevented them from removing any clothing items and items that could not be decontaminated.
The center courtyard was also the decontamination point--a final step in the recovery operation. Many personal items which could not be decontaminated were confiscated and destroyed. This mission was exceptionally trying for the MP who had to enforce these controls. In all, this mission balanced the requirement to salvage as much as possible while preventing the spread of contamination throughout other areas of the Pentagon. Without the MP controlling this operation, large quantities of governmental property and irreplaceable personal items would have been lost.
About 4 weeks after the attack, the MP handed over control of the damaged areas to the Pentagon Renovation Program (PENREN) for restoration and reconstruction; the MP still retained the access-control mission. Now, they had to keep the PENREN subcontractors out of the operational portions of the Pentagon. Many of the construction laborers working for the subcontractors included hundreds of third-world nationals. In one day alone, the MP and DPS ejected or apprehended over 30 subcontractors for violations ranging from unescorted entry into restricted areas to theft of government property.
Mr. Joel B. Hudson, Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, summed up the performance of the MP in a speech he made at the Pentagon on 27 September. He said, "The rapid response and professionalism of the military police was nothing short of magnificent. Their performance was critical to the overall operation and to the national defense of the United States."
Colonel David Phillips is the director of security, Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Washington, D.C. His previous assignments include commander, 720th MP Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas, and field grade assignments officer, PERSCOM. He is a graduate of the Army War College and Command and Staff Colleges.