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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Adm. Tim Keating was on his way back to the Pentagon’s Navy Command Center when the building “trembled.”

The hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon’s western side, coming to rest in the Navy Command Center. Keating arrived to find that 26 men and women — with whom he’d spoken moments before — had perished. It was Sept. 11, 2001, and 125 people were dead at the Pentagon.

Another 64 people died in the plane, including the pilot — Keating’s longtime friend Charles “Chip” Burlingame. Keating and Burlingame lived next door to each other at the Naval Academy, went to flight school together and lived across the street from each other in Texas.

Keating — now head of North American Aerospace Defense Command and the U.S. Northern Command — has been involved with combatting terrorism on “a very personal level since 9:40 a.m. that Tuesday morning,” he said in an interview Friday at Yokosuka Naval Base.

NORCOM’s mission is to “deter, prevent and defeat threats and aggression” aimed at the United States and the territories within an assigned region. But the institution also works with other U.S. allies — such as Japan, where Keating was formerly the Kitty Hawk’s Strike Group commander — to strengthen their defenses.

“Japan plays a critical role in [defeating] the terrorist threat,” Keating said Friday at the Kitty Hawk’s change-of- command ceremony.

The two countries are working to fortify ballistic missile defense through technology sharing and aggressively drilling together in military exercises, he said.

“Japan has felt the sting of asymmetric warfare since Sept. 11,” Keating said. “By working together we demonstrate mutual resolve to those who want to take advantage of perceived weaknesses or technological gaps.”

Unlike in the past, foes now “hide in the shadows,” Keating said.

“Terrorists are indiscriminate, ruthless, persistent, tech-savvy and patient,” he said.

“They prefer repression to democracy and would have our wives, daughters and granddaughters as ‘beasts of burden’ rather than free, independent people.”

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