Pentagon executives bear witness to terrorist attack

Ron Turner, the Navy's deputy chief information officer, was standing solemnly at a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon Tuesday morning. He had only to turn to watch the disaster unfold. "There was a huge fireball," he said, "followed by the [usual] black cloud of a fuel burn." Turner, a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, said the explosion was just the same as explosions of jet fighters and helicopters during his tour of duty in 1971. "It reminded me of being back in Vietnam," he said, "watching Tan Son Nhut Air Base burn." John Gilligan, the deputy CIO of the Air Force, was in his office overlooking the bus terminal at the Pentagon when the plane hit. He didn't hear or feel a thing. Colleagues across the highway in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va., called to tell him the Pentagon was on fire moments before a voice came over the Pentagon intercom telling everyone to evacuate. "After we left the building all we could see was the smoke," he said. "It was unclear just what had happened. There were rumors circulating that a plane or helicopter had run in to the Pentagon. Plus, we were unsure whether the smoke was toxic." Back in his office Wednesday, Gilligan was unsure whether the fires were out on the other side of the Pentagon. Still, he was there working. He said e-mail had proven to be the most reliable form of communication on Tuesday. Cell phones proved useless and landlines were very unreliable, he said. Looking forward, the Air Force will provide any information technology help it can to the Army and Navy, he said, the services most affected by the devastation. "In this environment," Gilligan said, "the military will pull together very quickly." Turner is focused on finding out just how bad the damage to the Navy's Pentagon quarters is. "We're focused on the building, the people and the networks," he said. "We're looking in to how many servers and desktops we will have to replace after we find homes for the displaced people." The wait for information may be agonizing. "We won't know anything for a couple of days," Turner said.
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