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Profile: Vern Clark
Vern Clark was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark, the Navy’s top officer, is in his office on the fourth floor of the Pentagon for a budget meeting. Although it is clear after the second WTC tower is hit that the US is under attack, Clark apparently does nothing in response, and no attempt is made to evacuate him from the Pentagon. Reportedly, when the Pentagon is hit at 9:37, he is “receiving a budget briefing.” It is only then that a member of his staff enters his office and tells him, “You’ve got to evacuate.” Clark will then head to the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC), where he meets with other senior Department of Defense leaders, and decides to re-establish the Navy’s command center in another secure location in Washington, DC (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Clark later reflects, “There has never been an experience like this in my lifetime. We were thinking about the immediate protection of the United States of America.” [Sea Power, 1/2002; National Public Radio, 6/14/2007]
The USS George Washington. [Source: Summer Anderson / Department of Defense]After the attack on the Pentagon, Navy ships and aircraft squadrons that are stationed, or at sea, along the coast of the United States are, reportedly, “rapidly pressed into action” to defend the country. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark is evacuated from his office in the Pentagon after the building is hit, and soon relocates to the Navy’s Antiterrorist Alert Center in southeast Washington, DC, where a backup Navy command center is being established (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Clark later explains, “We had carriers at sea. I talked to Admiral Natter [Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander in chief, US Atlantic Fleet] and Admiral Fargo [Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, commander in chief, US Pacific Fleet] about immediate loadouts [of weapons and armed aircraft] and the positioning of our air defense cruisers. Fundamentally, those pieces were in place almost immediately and integrated into the interagency process and with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration].” The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is currently at sea conducting training exercises. It is dispatched to New York, “following the recovery of armed F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets from Naval Air Station Oceana,” in Virginia Beach, Virginia. According to Sea Power magazine, another aircraft carrier—the USS John F. Kennedy—that is departing Mayport, Florida, is ordered to patrol the waters off Hampton Roads, Virginia, “to protect the Navy’s vast shore complex in Norfolk.” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Sea Power, 1/2002; Notre Dame Magazine, 4/2007] The John F. Kennedy has nearly a full air wing of 75 fighter, attack, and reconnaissance planes aboard it, while the George Washington has only a limited number of aircraft on board. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/12/2001] Admiral Natter orders two amphibious ships—the USS Bataan and the USS Shreveport—to proceed to North Carolina, to pick up Marines from Camp Lejeune, in case additional support is needed in New York. “Within three hours, an undisclosed number of Aegis guided-missile cruisers and destroyers also were underway, their magazines loaded with Standard 2 surface-to-air missiles. Positioned off New York and Norfolk, and along the Gulf Coast, they provided robust early-warning and air-defense capabilities to help ensure against follow-on terrorist attacks.” Vern Clark later recalls that, after the Pentagon attack, “We were thinking about the immediate protection of the United States of America.” [Sea Power, 1/2002] Yet, according to CNN, it is not until 1:44 p.m. that the Pentagon announces that five warships and two aircraft carriers—the USS George Washington and the USS John F. Kennedy—are to depart the Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia, so as to protect the East Coast (see 1:44 p.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] And, according to some reports, the Navy only dispatches missile destroyers toward New York and Washington at 2:51 p.m. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Fox News, 9/13/2001; Associated Press, 9/11/2006]
Vern Clark. [Source: US Navy]The Navy Command Center at the Pentagon is mostly destroyed when the building is hit at 9:37 a.m. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] After the attack, the Navy’s leaders start arriving instead at the Navy’s Antiterrorist Alert Center (ATAC), which is located at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) headquarters in southeast Washington, DC. [US Department of the Navy, 2/2002 ; CNN, 8/27/2002; US Naval Criminal Investigative Service, 8/22/2006] Those who arrive at the center include Admiral Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations; Admiral William Fallon, the vice chief of naval operations; Gordon England, the secretary of the Navy; and Rear Admiral Jeffrey Hathaway of the US Coast Guard, who is currently in charge of Navy Anti-Terrorism Force Protection. According to Hathaway, the NCIS headquarters is “not the official backup,” but “There was not a plan in place that if somebody flew into the Pentagon where would we take folks.” From the center, these officials are able to hold secure video-teleconferences throughout the rest of the day, and also on the following day. Eventually the Naval Operations staff will relocate to the Navy Annex, which is about a mile away from the Pentagon. This will act as their temporary base in the following weeks (see (3:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Coast Guard, 6/20/2002 ; GlobalSecurity (.org), 5/7/2011]
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