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(8:56 a.m.-9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Senior Commanders at Otis Air Base Learn of Attacks, Order ‘Battle Staff’

Paul Worcester.Paul Worcester. [Source: Paul Blackmore / Cape Cod Times]Senior commanders at Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, become aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center from television coverage, and one commander then orders the base’s battle staff to assemble. The commanders have just been in the first of the base’s regular Tuesday morning meetings, which ended at 8:55 a.m. They are taking a short break before the next meeting, which is scheduled for 9:00 a.m., and are apparently unaware that a plane has crashed into the WTC.
Wing Commander Sees Burning WTC on Television - One of those in the meeting was Lieutenant Colonel Paul Worcester, the logistics group commander of the 102nd Fighter Wing, which is based at Otis. As Worcester walks past the break room he notices that everyone inside it is fixated on the television. He goes in to find what they are watching and gets his first sight of the coverage of the burning North Tower. Worcester finds it odd that a plane could have hit the WTC, and thinks to himself: “On such a clear day, planes don’t just go astray. That just doesn’t happen.” Although he is aware that the base’s two F-15s that are kept on alert have been scrambled in response to a suspected hijacking (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), he does not connect this with what he is seeing on television.
Commanders See Second Attack - Worcester is joined in the break room by more of the senior commanders. They watch as the live television coverage shows Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), and all of them then realize that America is under attack. One commander immediately shouts out, “We need to go to battle staff!” The senior commanders disperse and head toward the adjacent operations building, where they will reconvene in the battle cab of the installation operations center (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). A voice sounds out over the base’s loudspeakers: “The commander has ordered the 102nd core battle staff to assemble. Please report to the operations building immediately.”
Unit Mobilizes for War - Subsequently, as author Lynn Spencer will describe: “Under the leadership of the [102nd Fighter] Wing commander, the various subordinate group commanders cross-brief on scramble activity, training flight issues, available munitions, personnel available to begin uploading more fighters to combat-ready status, security force increases, and more. In short, they begin to mobilize the wing for war, keeping NEADS [NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector] in the loop on their preparations.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 87-88, 153-154]
Base Learned of First Hijacking 20 Minutes Earlier - The 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, which is based at Otis Air Base, is responsible for protecting the Northeast United States, including New York, Washington, and Boston. Its mission includes defending the region against terrorist attacks. [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001] On a typical day, it has about a dozen pilots on duty. [Cape Cod Times, 9/15/2001] It is equipped with 18 F-15 fighter jets, two of which are kept on 24-hour alert, ready to be in the air within five minutes of being called upon. [Boston Globe, 9/15/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/21/2001] These were the two jets that launched at 8:46 a.m. in response to the hijacking of Flight 11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] The base was notified about this first hijacking shortly after 8:34 a.m. (see (8:36 a.m.-8:41) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 27-28] Why the senior commanders did not initiate their crisis response at that time is unclear.

Entity Tags: Paul Worcester, Otis Air National Guard Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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