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Profile: Barksdale Air Force Base
Barksdale Air Force Base was a participant or observer in the following events:
Personnel and aircraft at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana are participating in the annual US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) when the first crash at the World Trade Center is reported on television. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997; Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002]
Nuclear Weapons Are Being Loaded onto Bombers - Global Guardian is based around the scenario of a rogue nation attacking the United States with nuclear weapons. At Barksdale, according to journalists Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, air crews taking part in the exercise have been “pulling nuclear bombs and missiles out of their heavily guarded storage sites and loading them aboard B-52s” this morning. Real, live nuclear weapons are being used, but “their triggers [are] not armed.” [Schmitt and Shanker, 2011, pp. 22] “We were in the midst of this big annual exercise called Global Guardian. They loaded all the bombers, put the submarines out to sea, put the [intercontinental ballistic missiles] at nearly 100 percent,” Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, will later recall. “It was routine, you did it every year,” he will add. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Officers Realize America's Security Is at Risk - Colonel Mike Reese, director of staff for the 8th Air Force, is monitoring several television screens at the base as part of the exercise when he sees CNN cut into coverage of the first crash at the WTC, two minutes after it happens (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). He will see the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). He will recall that at this point: “[W]e knew it wasn’t a mistake. Something grave was happening that put the nation’s security at risk.”
Exercise Participants Switch to Defending the Base - The New Orleans Times-Picayune will describe how awareness of the real attacks impacts those participating in the exercise, stating: “Immediately their focus turned to defense, securing Barksdale, Minot [North Dakota], and Whiteman [Missouri] air force bases, where dozens of aircraft and hundreds of personnel were involved in the readiness exercise ‘Global Guardian.’ The exercise abruptly ended as the United States appeared to be at war within its own borders.” [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002]
Air Force Becomes Concerned about a Plane Being Crashed into the B-52s - The Air Force will be particularly concerned that terrorists might try to crash a hijacked plane into the B-52s with nuclear weapons on board that are on the tarmac at Barksdale. Although an attack of this kind would not set off a nuclear blast, it could cause a large explosion. “You would destroy half of Bossier City, Louisiana, with the explosions,” Al Buckles, Stratcom’s deputy director for operations, will comment. He will add: “That would have been a way to really cripple us. All these nuclear weapons were exposed.” [Omaha World-Herald, 9/9/2016] Four A-10s, aircraft not designed for air-to-air combat, from Barksdale’s 47th Fighter Squadron, will be placed on “cockpit alert,” the highest state of readiness for fighter pilots. “Within five minutes,” according to the Times-Picayune, “the A-10s, equipped only with high-intensity cannons, could have been launched to destroy unfriendly aircraft, even if it was a civilian passenger airliner.” Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Walker, commander of the 47th Fighter Squadron, and a novice pilot still in training will be sitting in their jets, ready to take off, when they are ordered back to the squadron office. They will be told they are no longer practicing. Walker will recall: “We had to defend the base against any aircraft, airliner, or civilian. We had no idea. Would it fly to the base and crash into the B-52s or A-10s on the flight line?” [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] When Air Force One with President Bush on board takes off from Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), it will initially have no fixed destination. But after a short time, it will begin heading toward Barksdale Air Force Base and land there at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39, 325]
Thomas Keck. [Source: US Air Force]When Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, is told that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, he mistakenly thinks this is a simulated scenario as part of a training exercise. [2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002, pp. 40 ; American History, 10/2006 ] Barksdale is one of a number of Air Force bases where aircraft and personnel are currently participating in the exercise Global Guardian (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] This annual exercise is run by the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) and aims to test the command’s ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/1/1997; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005]
Keck Thinks Crash Is a 'Scenario Injection' - Keck is sitting in a windowless command center at Barksdale, monitoring the base’s participation in Global Guardian. Ground crews are practicing getting a fleet of B-52 bombers fueled, armed, and ready to get airborne for bombing runs. Keck watches on a monitor as, at exactly 9:00 a.m., an alarm sounds across the base and the crews rush to their planes. Then a younger officer taps him on the shoulder and tells him, “Sir, we just had an aircraft hit the World Trade Center.” Keck mistakenly thinks the officer is describing a simulated crisis that is being included in the exercise. He says: “That’s not the way you interject a situation into a training exercise! When you have a scenario injection, you say, ‘Sir, this is an exercise input,’ and then you give me the information.” But the younger officer replies, “No, sir,” and points at a television showing CNN, which is broadcasting live coverage of the burning WTC in New York.
Keck Thinks First Crash Is an Accident - Keck’s initial thought upon seeing the TV coverage is reportedly, “How could such a terrible accident happen?” It is only when Keck sees the second plane hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m. that he will realize the US is under attack. He then yells to his staff, “Lock it down,” thereby signaling that the exercise is over. [American History, 10/2006 ] (However, according to an article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Stratcom will put Global Guardian on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but only terminate the exercise at 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ] ) After seeing the second crash, Keck will leave the command center from where he has been monitoring the exercise and go to the 8th Air Force battle staff, to be briefed on reports coming from Air Force headquarters about the ongoing terrorist attacks. He will later on accompany President Bush while he is at Barksdale, after landing there on Air Force One at about 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [American History, 10/2006 ]
Curtis M. Bedke. [Source: US Air Force]Officials at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, are informed that a large plane will be arriving unexpectedly at their base and will require security within the next 30 minutes, and they quickly deduce that the aircraft is Air Force One, the president’s plane, and start preparing for its arrival. [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; American History, 10/2006 ]
Officers Given List of Requirements for Air Force One - Colonel Anthony Imondi and Colonel Curtis Bedke of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale take a call from Air Force One in which they are given a list of requirements requested by the plane’s crew. These requirements include supplies intended to last for at least a day or two, as the president is currently uncertain of his final destination or how long he may need to remain airborne. On the list are, among other things, 150,000 pounds of fuel, 75 box lunches, 10 gallons of orange juice, bagels, muffins, and 25 pounds of bananas.
Commander Deduces Plane Is Air Force One - When Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, learns of the request, he asks his staff, “Who the heck is this?” His personnel say they don’t know, as the plane would not identify itself except to say there were distinguished visitors on board and it was “Code Alpha,” which means top priority. The pilot of Air Force One, Colonel Mark Tillman, then informs the base that the distinguished visitors are four congressmen. However, Keck suspects the plane is more important and soon works out that it must be Air Force One, carrying the president. He then has just 20 minutes to prepare for the president’s arrival at Barksdale.
Base Prepares for Plane's Arrival - Keck orders his staff to prepare for receiving a large, inbound aircraft, although he and his colleagues try to keep the plane’s identity secret as much as possible. The order goes out for the requested supplies to be gathered from the dining facility on the base, the commissary, or from off-base stores. The base’s security forces, and fuels and maintenance personnel, are instructed to stand by to service the plane. Keck tells the base’s military police unit that the incoming plane will need a full-on security detail as soon as it stops on the runway. [2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 ; American History, 10/2006 ]
Officer Told Air Force One Landing at Nearby Airport - Captain Russell Stilling, an operations officer with the 2nd Security Forces Squadron at the base, is initially told only that an “unidentified aircraft” is inbound. Four minutes later he is called by the Secret Service, which tells him the aircraft is in fact Air Force One, but says the plane will be arriving at Shreveport Regional Airport, not Barksdale Air Base, and asks him to assign extra security police. Stilling only realizes Air Force One is landing at Barksdale while he is still on the phone with the Secret Service and he glances at a camera focused on the base’s runways, which is showing the plane coming in to land. [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] Air Force One will land at Barksdale Air Force Base at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001]
Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Win McNamee / Reuters]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, lands at Barksdale Air Force Base—the home of the B-52 bomber—near Shreveport, Louisiana. [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; BBC, 9/1/2002] The president’s plane was escorted by fighter jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard as it came in to land (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Bush, 2010, pp. 132] Two of those fighters now land at Barksdale with Air Force One while the other two remain airborne, flying a combat air patrol over Shreveport and Bossier City. Aircraft and personnel at Barksdale were participating in the major training exercise Global Guardian this morning, before the terrorist attacks began (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), and after touching down, Air Force One taxies past 40 fully loaded B-52s. [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ; Draper, 2007, pp. 141] Air Force personnel dressed in full combat gear and brandishing M-16s then set up a perimeter around the plane. [Time, 9/14/2001] Bush initially remains on board, gathering more intelligence. There is no mobile gangway on the tarmac and so he is unable to get off through his usual door in the top half of Air Force One. Instead, the flight crew opens a hatch near the belly of the plane and lowers a set of retractable stairs while Bush continues working the phones. The president finally gets off the plane just before noon and is then escorted away from it amid tight security (see (11:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 111-112] The Daily Telegraph will later comment, “The official reason for landing at Barksdale was that Mr. Bush felt it necessary to make a further statement (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001), but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that—as there was no agreement as to what the president’s movements should be—it was felt he might as well be on the ground as in the air.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Bush will remain at Barksdale Air Force Base for almost two hours before taking off again on Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Salon, 9/12/2001; 2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 ]
While President Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, officials there receive reports of unidentified aircraft heading toward the base. [American History, 10/2006 ] The FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and by about 12:15 p.m., US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 4/15/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] But for the entire time Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base, Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, and White House aides traveling with the president are receiving reports of unidentified aircraft flying toward the base. According to American History magazine, “Under Threatcon Delta, and what Keck’s staff already knew of the day’s shocking events, there was a low threshold for declaring any incoming plane or object a threat.” Therefore, Keck “made sure his staff kept him closely apprised of each questionable target.… If necessary, the commander was ready to give the order to fire on any plane that threatened the base.” Whether the suspicious aircraft are identified, and the reasons they are flying toward Barksdale ever discovered, is unstated. Barksdale Air Force Base is “already a prime target because of its key fleet of B-52s,” according to American History magazine. “Attack on the base by a hijacked airliner was never among the anticipated scenarios, however, so the base’s air security was light.” [American History, 10/2006 ] Administration officials will later tell the New York Times that around this time, there are two reports of international flights that are unaccounted for, and two domestic flights are seen as possible threats. [New York Times, 9/16/2001] Also while Bush is at Barksdale, a report is received that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but this turns out to be a false alarm (see 1:05 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; Draper, 2007, pp. 142-143]
Two A-10 aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Greg Steele / US Air Force]Because no fighter jets are available at Barksdale Air Force Base, the Air Force Reserve places two A-10 jets, which are intended for close air support of ground forces, on alert in order to defend the base and the president’s plane, Air Force One, which landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, is responsible for protecting President Bush and Air Force One from any attack while they are at his base, and he realizes something needs to be done to provide cover for Barksdale. He therefore calls Brigadier General Jack Ihle, the commander of the 917th Wing of the Air Force Reserve at Barksdale, and requests help. When Keck asks Ihle if he can provide “any kind of defense,” Ihle immediately answers, “You got it!” The Air Force Reserve at Barksdale has no fighters, but it does have A-10 Warthogs, which are twin-engine jet aircraft known as “tank killers,” because they can deliver heavy firepower against tanks and ground forces. Despite the plane’s relatively slow speed, the A-10’s “gun is deadly,” according to Keck. Two A-10s are therefore parked at the end of the base’s runway on cockpit alert, with crews ready to take off immediately if required. Keck will later recall, “We felt better having them there, and then NORAD sent over a couple of F-16s before long.” [American History, 10/2006 ; GlobalSecurity (.org), 7/7/2011] (Keck is presumably referring to the fighters launched by the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing to follow Air Force One after it leaves Barksdale (see (1:45 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press, 12/30/2007] ) Two of the four F-16 fighters from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale fly a combat air patrol overhead, while the other two are on the ground with Air Force One while the president is at the base, according to the Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base. [Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
President Bush at Barksdale Air Force Base, accompanied by Lieutenant General Thomas Keck.
[Source: White House]President Bush is provided with a high level of security when he gets off Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, and is promptly driven to a conference center on the base from where he makes a brief phone call. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 164; Rove, 2010, pp. 258-259] Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. and was immediately surrounded by Air Force personnel in full combat gear, with their rifles drawn (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Bush remained on board while a retractable set of stairs was lowered for him to leave the plane by.
Reporters Updated on President's Actions - A dark blue Dodge Caravan now pulls up next to these stairs, and a Secret Service agent and two Air Force officers take positions at the bottom of the stairs. The Dodge then pulls away, perhaps 40 feet back from the plane, and is swept inside and outside with dogs. Some members of the president’s staff come down the stairs from the plane. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer approaches the pool of reporters who have been traveling on Air Force One and who are waiting under the plane’s left wing for the president to disembark. Fleischer gives them a brief update on the president’s actions during the flight and adds: “You will see [the president] disembark here shortly. He will head inside and that’s all I’m going to indicate at this moment. You will have additional information shortly.” Fleischer then answers several questions from the reporters.
President Gets off Plane and into Minivan - Bush then descends from Air Force One. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 111] The Shreveport Secret Service office has been mobilized to oversee security arrangements while the president is at Barksdale. However, there is no presidential limousine waiting to drive Bush away from the plane. [Rove, 2010, pp. 258] Normally the president’s armored limousine would be flown in ahead of time on a military transport plane, but there has been no time to get it to Barksdale. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 112] Bush instead gets into the Dodge Caravan, which is being guarded by a Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun on top. [Rove, 2010, pp. 258] White House chief of staff Andrew Card gets in with him. The media and some of Bush’s staff, including his senior adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett, get into an Air Force minibus. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 112]
Bush Taken to Conference Center on Base - The Dodge then drives off at high speed. Bush will later recall that it “blasted off down the runway at what felt like 80 miles an hour. When the man behind the wheel started taking turns at that speed, I yelled, ‘Slow down, son, there are no terrorists on this base!’” [Bush, 2010, pp. 132] The Humvee pulls out behind the Dodge, and the airman manning the machine gun on top cocks his weapon and puts a live round in the chamber. The minibus carrying the reporters follows moments later. [Rove, 2010, pp. 258-259] The small motorcade drives to the Dougherty Conference Center, a two-story building on the base. At the stroke of noon, Bush and his aides enter the building. A car blocks the driveway and several armed soldiers stand guard while the president is inside. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 112]
Bush Speaks to Vice President - Bush and his aides are met by Colonel Curtis Bedke, the commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing, and Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, apparently as they are entering the conference center. [2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 ; American History, 10/2006 ] Inside, Bush picks up a telephone and speaks briefly with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 112] Bush tells Keck he needs to get to a secure phone. Keck says there is one in his office, but this is in a different building on the base. [American History, 10/2006 ] The pool of reporters waits in the parking lot outside the conference center for about 10 minutes while the president is inside. Bush and his staff finally come out at 12:11 p.m., to be taken to the 8th Air Force headquarters building (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 112]
Entity Tags: Barksdale Air Force Base, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Dan Bartlett, Curtis M. Bedke, Ari Fleischer, Thomas Keck, George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Reuters]Air Force One takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to fly President Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Bush has been at Barksdale, base personnel have refueled Air Force One and restocked it with provisions for its continuing journey, on the basis that it may have to serve as the president’s flying command center for the foreseeable future. [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; 2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 ; BBC, 9/1/2002]
Reduced Number of Passengers on Board - For security reasons, the number of people traveling on Air Force One has been reduced (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145-146] Those continuing with the president include Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, his communications director Dan Bartlett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe. The number of Secret Service agents accompanying the president has been reduced, as has the number of reporters. The five remaining journalists are Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and sound technician. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/12/2001]
President Given Thumbs-up by Airmen - Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, has been at Bush’s side for most of his time at Barksdale, and accompanies the president as he is being driven across the base to Air Force One. The president passes a row of B-52 bombers and is given a thumbs-up by the planes’ crew members. Keck explains to Bush that this means the troops “are trained, they’re ready, and they’ll do whatever you want them to.” Military police salute and other Air Force crew members cheer the president as he passes them. [American History, 10/2006 ]
Fighter Escort Rejoins Air Force One - Air Force One is being guarded by soldiers with their guns drawn when Bush reaches it, and a pack of military dogs is patrolling the tarmac. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117-118] After the plane takes off, two F-16 fighter jets pull up alongside it to provide an escort. [American History, 10/2006 ] These are presumably the same fighters, belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
Destination Chosen Due to 'Continuity of Government' Plan - Bush’s destination, Offutt Air Force Base, is home to the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls the nation’s nuclear weapons. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] Bush will later say the decision to head there was based on Offutt’s “secure housing space and reliable communications.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] The base’s secure teleconferencing equipment will allow the president to conduct a meeting of his National Security Council later in the afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 119; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19, 26] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Offutt has been chosen as the president’s next destination “because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service wanted a place where the president could spend several days, if necessary.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] But according to White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the decision to head to Offutt instead of back to Washington, DC, was due to a plan called “Continuity of Government.” This program, which dates back to the Reagan administration, originally planned to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. It was activated for the first time shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004]
Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Barksdale Air Force Base, Thomas Keck, Ann Compton, Ari Fleischer, Doug Mills, George W. Bush, Gordon Johndroe, US Secret Service, 147th Fighter Wing, Sonya Ross, Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Richard A. Clarke
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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