Oklahoma 9/11 Response Included Nuclear Possibility

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Speaking at a 9/11 memorial forum Rose State College, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Gary Foster said the US Navy Strategic Communications Wing One was involved in an alert training exercise when the real alert came through.

Flanked by officials with the U.S. Air Force and the FAA,  retired U.S. Navy Capt. Gary Foster explains how U.S. nuclear forces readied in response to the 9/11 attacks ten years ago. Foster made the remarks Friday, September 09, 2011, at a memorial panel

Flanked by officials with the U.S. Air Force and the FAA, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Gary Foster explains how U.S. nuclear forces readied in response to the 9/11 attacks ten years ago.

All of a sudden, it was a defense exercise termination, followed by a Defense Condition 3 (DEFCON 3) message, the first time in my career that has ever happened.

A retired naval officer from Oklahoma City’s Tinker Air Force Base said Friday that a nuclear attack command/control unit stationed at the base was activated within minutes of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers, setting the stage for the possibility of nuclear war.

Speaking at a 9/11 memorial forum at Rose State College in Midwest City, a suburb of Oklahoma City that is home to the base, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Gary Foster said the US Navy Strategic Communications Wing One was involved in an alert training exercise when the real alert came through.

The Navy unit runs a program called TACAMO, for Take Charge And Move Out, an airborne communication system that links the U.S. nuclear submarine forces to the president in time of nuclear war. The communication system operates out of planes based at Tinker.

Foster said the unit had 600 personnel deployed nationwide and had airborne three Boeing E-6 command and control aircraft, when hijacked airliners hit the World Trade Center.

“All of a sudden, it was a defense exercise termination, followed by a Defense Condition 3 (DEFCON 3) message, the first time in my career that has ever happened,” Foster said. “We thought, ‘We’re in a great position because if this thing goes nuclear, we’re here, we’re ready, and we’re at the tip of the spear.’ We were ready to go.”

DEFCON 3 has only been triggered three times in history; during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1973 at the onset of the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, and during the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/c3i/defcon.htm

Foster said that following the of the beginning of the alert, a missile was launched in Asia, watched by U.S. forces, triggering an additional possibility that a nuclear strike was in progress.

“I’ll never forget it. It was a missile that had been launched from Asia. For about ten seconds we all just held our breath, thinking, ‘Okay, we hope it’s going to go that way, and not this way.’ After that ten seconds they found out the trajectory was going away from us and ended up being a test missile. The pucker factor was pretty high.”

“As the days went on, and we were figuring out who did this to us, it was determined that nuclear forces would not be required.”

The comments were made during a 9/11 memorial panel held Friday, September 09, 2011, at Rose State College, a community college with longtime ties to Tinker, including classrooms located on the base. The panel discussion included numerous high-ranking officers associated with the base’s response during the emergency.

Those responses included coordinating with European crews from the North American Treaty Organization, or NATO, which patrolled the skies over the U.S. for the first time in the organization’s history. Aircraft from Tinker were deployed to escort Air Force One, which was diverted from its flight from Florida to the Midwest.

“That aircraft we launched intercepted Air Force One and flew with it to Barksdale (Air Force Base) and eventually followed it into Andrews (Air Force Base) when they were tasked to do so.,” said Air Force Col. (ret.) Patrick Sheets.

Sheets said another aircraft from Tinker was ordered to Washington, D.C. shortly following the attacks.    

“It was the first plane to execute what became Operation Noble Eagle, by flying to the East Coast and orbiting over the White House,” Sheets said.

Attending the panel was Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, who during the 9/11 attacks was the state’s Lt. Governor. Fallin said the 2001 attacks reminded her and others in the state of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, which prior to 9/11 was the nation’s worst terror attack.

“What we have seen here in Oklahoma during our tragedy is what we saw on 9/11, the resiliency of our people, the sense of neighbor, and that our response was immediate. At Tinker—and did they have a job on their hands that day—our men and women answered that call,” Fallin said. “That’s what we’re here for today, to say ‘Thank You’.”

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