Profile: Brian Webster
Brian Webster was a participant or observer in the following events:
The 177th Fighter Wing, a military unit based at the Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey, raises its threat protection level to a wartime posture, and, though it is no longer part of NORAD’s alert mission, starts preparing to launch its aircraft with live missiles. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 120-122]
Commander Orders Increased Threat Condition - Lt. Col. Brian Webster, who is the acting wing commander for the 177th Fighter Wing, was at home when he learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center. After watching the second attack live on television, he rushes out to drive to the base. Webster calls the command post there on his cell phone and gives the order, “Raise the base’s threat protection level to Charlie!” Threatcon Charlie is a wartime posture, and will mean various security measures are activated in preparation for a possible attack. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 120-121]
Command Post Brought Online - For many years, up to 1998 (see May 19, 1997), the 177th FW was part of NORAD’s alert force. It kept two fully armed F-16s on constant alert, and was responsible for providing air sovereignty of the mid-Atlantic, between Long Island, New York, and the Virginia Capes. [New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, 1999 ; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] But since the unit was removed from the NORAD alert mission, its command post has been used just once a month for training. It is now coming to life, though, as personnel switch on the lights, and turn on computers and monitors. The workers increase their pace after hearing an announcement about the transition to Threatcon Charlie. A master sergeant busily calls members of staff and orders them to report to base.
Webster Wants Live Missiles on Aircraft - When Webster arrives, he instructs the operations support flight commander to replace practice missiles and munitions on the unit’s fighter jets with live ones. The missiles are not stored by the aircraft, so this will take some time. Webster also orders, “Get me authenticators.” An authenticator is a piece of paper given to pilots with a code in a series of letters on it, and which is only valid for a 24-hour period. If a pilot receives an order to fire, he must ask for an authentication code. If this doesn’t match the code on his authenticator, he cannot legally comply with the order. NORAD’s alert sites receive authenticators each month, but as it is no longer part of the alert mission, Atlantic City has none.
Weapons Chief Uncertain - According to author Lynn Spencer, Webster’s orders are unprecedented at a non-alert fighter wing of the Air National Guard. “Air National Guard jets don’t simply fly around the United States with live missiles. Guardsmen train to fight wars overseas, not to fly armed combat over the United States.” The weapons chief with the 177th FW is unenthusiastic, and asks to have a word with Webster. But Webster tells him abruptly, “Just do it!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 121-122] Within two hours, the first fighters will take off from the Atlantic City unit. These had been preparing for a training mission at the time of the attacks in New York (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 10/2002]
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