Crisis teams feel 'renewed' sense of purpose
March 22, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — From precise ground movements of Marines crossing the Kuwaiti border into Iraq, to the need for toilet paper in the field, the services’ Crisis Action Teams know it all.
Team members are holed up in secure facilities in and around the Pentagon, keeping a finger on the pulse of operations in the Middle East.
Tensions aren’t quite palpable, but the mood is focused and purposeful.
“It’s definitely business as usual, but with a renewed sense of purpose and dedication in everything we’re doing,” said Capt. Nat Fahy, a Marine Corps spokesman assigned to pull one of the three daily eight-hour shifts in a windowless, secret room in the Navy Annex, about a half-mile from the Pentagon.
“There’s excitement, concern, seriousness — a mix of emotions with a sense of anticipation,” said Maj. Robert Cain, his equivalent in the Army’s crisis action center tucked in a basement room of the Pentagon. “People are moving a little faster, paying more attention to every word everyone says.”
From the CAT floor, Cain said he sits at a long table, furnished with two-dozen computers accessing classified and unclassified Internet and e-mail traffic, and monitors multiple screens spitting 24-hour cable news coverage. When he looks up in the two-story room, he sees a window-enclosed mini-theater.
“That’s where we brief the Army leadership every day,” he said. “Sometimes once a day, sometimes three times a day. It all depends.”
Army leaders, including the secretary and chief of staff, sit in that mini-theater for the daily Power Point presentations, accompanied by a scripted brief put together by the various team members supplying succinct tabs on all aspects of Army operations worldwide.
Because only those with a secret clearance can enter, Stars and Stripes depended on public affairs personnel to talk about moods, sights and sounds.
“Many people left their jobs and families to volunteer to be here,” said Cain, himself an activated reservist from the 326th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment out of Reading, Pa. “Some of them lucrative jobs.”
The Army permitted one supervised phone interview with a soldier who has given up roughly $250,000 in annual income to volunteer on the CAT floor.
“It was 9/11 that inspired me to do my part,” said Lt. Col. Rick Begley, who owns and operates a “rather large and profitable” fitness center in Reno, Nev.
A “good family friend” now runs the center, he said, and he’s paid her the handsome bonus of his annual income. “She is running things, after all,” he quipped. “It’s the least I could do.”
“Everything we’re doing is so very important, especially right now,” said Begley, a reservist with the 9th Signal Corps. “I’m just delighted to contribute to the piece of the pie. We’ve really gelled here as a team.”
And they are all kinds. A furrier. A doctor. An actor.
“They’re willing to make sacrifices for what they feel is important.”
Each of the services created the crisis centers following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to keep a constant flow of information of who, what, where, when and why moving to highest of echelons, the decision-makers. The centers operate on a 24-hour basis when the need arises.
The need is here.
“We’re the eyes and ears for the Air Force senior leadership and provide support for deployed [troops],” said Maj. Lewonnie Belcher, an Air Force spokeswoman assigned to pull duty in the CAT.
The Air Force’s CAT, also set up in a basement room of the Pentagon, covers a total of 34 “functional areas” with at least four people assigned to man the desks, two each on 12-hour shifts, Belcher said. Not all 34 have to be manned in order for it to be up and running.
Those areas include such jobs as public affairs, Judge Advocate General, chaplain, operations and intelligence — “basically all the things you’d find on a battle staff,” she said.
“We’re putting the clearest battlefield picture together that we can of troop and equipment movement, from the Internet, intranet chatter, overhead maps and even 24-hour news,” Fahy said.