At Pentagon on 9/11, “shots fired” triggers press, and emotions
Published: September 11, 2009
This morning, drenched from watching the president and Mrs. Obama at the Pentagons 9/11 memorial service in a windy rain, I stayed to watch a crowd of 9/11 families slowly fan across the Pentagons memorial, then turned and walked back inside the building.
One of the last things that caught my eye was the unusual motion at the roofline of the massive building. I glanced up and saw a line of four snipers, carrying large sniper rifle bags. It was the presidents security, packing up to go home. I never knew they were even up there.
Ten minutes later, inside, when I finally turned into the print media filing center our press bullpen someone had turned on the television on my desk. It was blaring CNNs live coverage. I heard: Shots fired, by the Coast Guard in the Potomac
What happened? I asked, wide-eyed. My colleagues, also watching, said CNN reported the Coast Guard had fired on a boat.
I was just outside! Just around the corner. And this was going on a stones throw away in the Potomac River between the Memorial and 14th bridges? I had no clue and I was sure nobody outside, especially those families, knew either. The president was JUST here, I thought. Uh oh
Quickly, I grabbed my notepad and recorder. With reporters from Associated Press, Reuters, Agence-France Press, the Washington Post, and more, I fast-walked to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitmans office. We peppered him and each other with questions: Was it a training exercise? Did the Pentagon know about it? Did you know about this, outside? Has the Pentagon responded to the event? What the hell is the Coast Guard thinking ?
Whitman had nothing, he was watching in real time, too, and this was a matter for the Coast Guard and its parent Department of Homeland Security. The Pentagons reservation and its immediate security concern ends inland, before the rivers edge.
While we were in the gaggle, reporters said their agencies had confirmed: it was only a training mission.
I came back and tweeted:
StripesBaron Pentagon spksman Bryan Whitman had no information on Coast Guard drill in Potomac. The Pentagon has no security control of the riverfront.
Within the hour, DHS sent this tweet:
DHSJournal No shots fired on Potomac this am. Boats conducting Coast Guard training exercise. USCG to provide more info shortly. PLS RT
I wasnt at the Pentagon on this day in 2001. As smoked poured from it, I was working near Washingtons Dupont Circle, just a 10-minute walk from the White House, deciding how to get out of the city as fast as I could because news reports told us that more planes were coming toward Washington.
But in the nine months Ive worked here, this has become my work home, and Ive felt bonded to the building and those reporters and workers who were there that day.
Every time that I have lunch in the Pentagons center courtyard, commercial planes skim the Pentagon low and loud as they fly in and out of National Airport just down the road. And every time, I watch peoples eyes glance upward, warily, and then relieved when the roar quiets down and nothing happens.
The looks on the faces of some in the Pentagon this morning were serious and real.
To us Pentagon reporters, even if briefly, this was no drill.