9/11: Keeping the Heart of the Pentagon Beating

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2006 – Sept. 11, 2001, started beautifully. But by 10 a.m., the clear blue skies were marred by black smoke rising above horrific scenes of death and destruction.

The personnel of the National Military Command Center, deep inside the Pentagon, come in early -- 5:30 a.m. -- but already they could tell the day was going to be gorgeous. As the first faint blush of dawn touched the Pentagon, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The temperatures promised to be in the upper 70s with little humidity.

Pushing aside the urge to play hooky, the men and women of the NMCC came into the building and began what they believed would be a typical day.

Dan Mangino was -- and still is -- an operations officer in the command center. “It was just a typical day,” he said. “It’s always exciting to come to work here, because even on typical days, there is so much to do. You end your shift every day knowing you helped the military accomplish something.”

Steve Hahn is also an operations officer at the center. He was just returning from leave with his son that day and was hoping to catch up on work.

The day began to change at 8:46 a.m. That’s when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, in New York. “We monitor the television networks in the center, and along with the rest of America we saw the smoke pouring from the tower,” Hahn said.

“At first, we thought it was a terrible accident,” Mangino said. “But then the second plane hit the other tower, and we knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack.”

Personnel in the center shifted into hyperdrive. One of Mangino’s deputies was to stand up working groups and task forces immediately. “I knew at that point it was a terrorist attack and initiated the process to stand-up a working group in advance of the direction that would come down later,” he said.

Phones in the center began ringing off the hook. Mangino said he knew he would have little time in the days ahead, so he quickly ran to the concourse to get some money out of an automated teller machine. Continue reading...