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Profile: Paul Montanus
Paul Montanus was a participant or observer in the following events:
Paul Montanus. [Source: United States Naval Academy]Major Paul Montanus and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, two military aides who are accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, are notified that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, but they do not yet realize the crash was deliberate, as part of a terrorist attack. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011; CBS Sports, 8/31/2012] The president has five military aides, who are representatives of the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and the Coast Guard. A military aide will accompany the president wherever he goes. [Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011; Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011] Montanus, a Marine Corps officer, is currently the president’s “advance aide.” He inspected the locations for the president’s Florida visit beforehand and is accompanying Bush on his trip to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011] Gould, an Air Force officer, is the “courier military aide,” who is responsible for handling military emergency operations. He is currently off duty for a few hours, and is working out in the gym at the resort on Longboat Key where Bush spent the previous night (see September 10, 2001). [Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011; Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011]
Military Aides Alerted to Crash at WTC - Montanus is notified of the crash at the WTC while traveling to the Booker Elementary School in the president’s motorcade. He apparently does not realize it was part of a terrorist attack. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002] “We had heard that a plane had hit the building, but not much more,” he will later recall. [CBS Sports, 8/31/2012] Gould learns what happened in New York when his pager goes off, with a message from the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House that informs him, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” Gould then sees the coverage of the crash on the television in the gym. He finishes his workout and then calls his wife, to discuss the incident with her. As a trained pilot, Gould wonders how such a crash could have occurred. Like Montanus, he thinks it was an accident. “Part of me doesn’t want to believe it’s anything else,” he will recall. Gould will still be on the phone with his wife when the second plane hits the WTC, and then realize that some kind of attack is taking place (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Military Aide Gives President 'Direct Access to His Military Commanders' - The job of the presidential military aide is, primarily, to be the emergency action officer for the president, but it also involves being the president’s military representative for official functions and his personal aide on weekends. Military aides carry what is called the “nuclear football,” which is a briefcase that holds critical codes that are necessary to initiate a nuclear attack, and other emergency operations details that the president might need when he is away from the White House. Gould will explain that, as the presidential military aide, his role is “to ensure that the commander in chief had direct access to his military commanders; specifically, in the realm of if we were under a nuclear attack, I would present the president with his options.” [Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011; Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011]
Military officers exchanging the ‘nuclear football’ under the nose of Air Force One. [Source: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press]Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, promptly arranges for Air Force One to leave Sarasota after he learns that a second plane has hit the World Trade Center. Gould, one of the president’s five military aides, is currently off duty for a few hours and at the resort on Longboat Key where Bush spent the previous night (see September 10, 2001), while another military aide, Major Paul Montanus, is with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota. Gould was alerted to the first crash at the WTC but thought it was an accident (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). He is talking on the phone with his wife and watching the coverage of the crash on television when a second plane, Flight 175, hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Realizing this must be a deliberate act, Gould abruptly ends the call with his wife. “At that point I know something has happened,” he will later recall. “It’s bigger than an accident. It’s an attack of some sort. I don’t think I thought through what kind of attack it was, but I knew it was something concerted.” Gould has tactical control of all the military assets that support the president, including presidential aircraft, and he has the ability to move assets on behalf of the president. He therefore calls Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, immediately and tells him to get the president’s plane and its crew ready to depart as soon as possible. He then heads to the Sarasota airport, getting there at around 9:30 a.m. After the president’s motorcade arrives at the airport at 9:43 a.m. (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Gould meets Montanus under the nose of Air Force One. Following strict protocol, Montanus gives Gould the “nuclear football”—a briefcase carried by the president’s military aide that holds the codes and plans necessary for the president to initiate a nuclear attack. Gould will be on Air Force One with the president when the plane takes off (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), but Montanus will stay behind in Sarasota, as is procedure. [Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011; Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011]
Members of President Bush’s staff who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, are informed of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center but then have to find a television in order to see the coverage of it. [White House, 8/12/2002; Rove, 2010, pp. 250; KFDI, 12/11/2012] While Bush goes into a classroom to participate in a reading demonstration (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001), several members of his traveling staff stay in the “staff hold.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The staff hold, according to deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan, is “a private room set up as a quiet work space with secure and non-secure phones for us to use during a presidential visit.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 101] If you pick up one of the secure phones, Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, will later write, “someone with a quiet military voice answers, you make a request, and a moment or two later, you’re talking to anybody you want, anywhere in the world.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The staff hold, on this occasion, is next to the classroom where Bush is participating in the reading demonstration. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 101]
Staffers Think the First Crash Was an Accident - Members of Bush’s staff who stay in the staff hold while Bush joins the reading demonstration include White House chief of staff Andrew Card, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, White House staff secretary Harriet Miers, and Rove. [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] Also in the room, according to Rove, are Major Paul Montanus, one of the president’s military aides, and “the military doctor, the surgeon, and the surgical nurse with a full operating kit” who “stand ready to go to the aid of the president if he falls ill or is shot or somehow injured.” [KFDI, 12/11/2012] These individuals are aware of the first crash at the WTC. “All of us are still trying to find out information about that, to confirm what our instincts were,” Bartlett will recall, “and our instincts were that this was a tragic accident.”
Staffers Learn about the Second Crash - After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), the staffers quickly learn about the incident in calls to their cell phones or pager messages. “[Y]ou could see it, the rippling effect of people being informed about what was happening,” Bartlett will recall. However, he will say, “most of the tone was disbelief and not knowing what was going on.” Bartlett learns about the crash in a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him, “You’re not going to believe this, Dan, but the other tower was hit.” Bartlett asks his assistant what she means and she says, “Another plane, another plane hit the other tower, World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002] Rove learns about the crash when Susan Ralston, his executive assistant, calls him with the news. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] Card, meanwhile, learns about it from Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president in Florida and is with Card in the staff hold (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Dayton Daily News, 3/16/2013; Priess, 2016, pp. 240-241]
No Television Has Been Set Up in the Staff Hold - Unusually, a television has not been set up in the staff hold, so the staffers there are initially unable to see the coverage of the second attack. “Normally there’s a television in the staff hold,” Rove will comment. “But for some strange reason, this morning at Booker Elementary there was no television in there.” Rove therefore has to go out of the room, and run “up and down the hallways of the elementary school trying to find a television.” He eventually finds one in a classroom and then hurriedly rolls it into the staff hold. But he then has trouble connecting it to cable. The first socket he plugs it into doesn’t work. But after he plugs it into another socket, he gets a signal and the TV starts showing footage of the second crash. [KFDI, 12/11/2012; LBJ Presidential Library, 9/3/2013] Around the same time, those in the staff hold make contact with their colleagues at the White House and work with them on coordinating a response to the attacks. [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002]
Bill Balkwill. [Source: Sarasota County Sheriff's Office]Major Paul Montanus, the military aide with President Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, wants Bush and his entourage to leave the school after he sees the second hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center on television, and yet, apparently, no attempt is made to evacuate them at this time.
Military Aide Asked to Be Taken to a TV - Sarasota County Sheriff Bill Balkwill, who is at the school while Bush is there, was approached shortly after 9:00 a.m. by an individual that the Sarasota Herald-Tribune will describe as “a Marine responsible for carrying Bush’s phone.” [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/10/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] This person is presumably Montanus, a Marine Corps officer who is the military aide accompanying Bush during his visit to the school. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011] Montanus will later recall that at the time, he had “heard that a plane had hit the building, but not much more.” “We were trying to think of a reasonable reason” why the crash at the WTC occurred, he will say. [CBS Sports, 8/31/2012] While listening to someone talking to him in his earpiece, Montanus asked Balkwill, “Can you get me to a television?” He explained, “We’re not sure what’s going on, but we need to see a television.” The two men, along with three Secret Service agents and a SWAT team member, then went to a nearby office where there was a television. They turned on the TV in time to see Flight 175 crashing into the WTC, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Military Aide Says, 'We Gotta Get out of Here' - In response to seeing the crash, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Montanus tells Balkwill, “We’re out of here” and asks, “Can you get everyone ready?” [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/10/2002] Montanus will recall that he says: “What in God’s name? We gotta get out of here.” [CBS Sports, 8/31/2012] However, no evacuation takes place. Instead, Bush is allowed to continue listening to a reading demonstration (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the president and his entourage will leave the school at around 9:35 a.m., more than 30 minutes after the second crash at the WTC occurred (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39] The decision to allow Bush to continue listening to the reading demonstration at the current time seems particularly odd considering that, according to the Tampa Tribune, the classroom of Sandra Kay Daniels was selected as the location for the demonstration because it is “situated next to the school’s north door, making it easier to organize elaborate security.” [Tampa Tribune, 9/1/2002]
An aircraft that is in Sarasota, Florida, in support of President Bush’s visit there takes off with people and equipment on board shortly after Air Force One leaves Sarasota, and will eventually make its way back to Washington, DC. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002] Air Force One took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport with Bush on board at around 9:54 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Members of the president’s entourage who have stayed behind in Sarasota subsequently load the second aircraft with vehicles and other items. The aircraft would normally be used just to transport people back to Washington. But Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer, will later recall that all of the presidential limousines “and a bunch of equipment we had which I can’t really discuss” are loaded onto it. The aircraft then takes off from the Sarasota airport “not too long after the president got airborne.” Those on the aircraft, as well as Herman, include members of the Secret Service and Major Paul Montanus, one of the president’s military aides. Herman will not say where the aircraft goes, or why, after it leaves Sarasota. “Obviously we were in the air for a reason, for any contingency,” he will say. “Basically we could have gone to any city or county or location in the United States, and landed and supported the president at that location.” Herman will add that the flight “became a special mission.” The aircraft will land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, “about 15 minutes after the president,” according to Herman. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002] This would mean it lands at around 6:45 p.m. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 127; Rove, 2010, pp. 263]
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