It is headquartered in a bunker-style building among industrial parks that dot the old Griffis Air Base in Rome. In 2001, it was known as NEADS, the Northeast Air Defense Sector, a unit run by the New York Air National Guard, responsible for defending the skies over the United States. YNN's Bill Carey says the unit faced major challenges on September 11th as it tried to respond to an attack no one could have foreseen.
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Boston Center: "Boston Center TMU. We have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York. This is not an exercise, not a test."
It was a phone call that signaled the start of a war.
Boston Center: "They're supposed to be going to LA. And they're headed south. They're going the wrong way, obviously.
Col. Dawne Deskins: "I think they said they're going to put Otis on battle stations."
"The thought was that they would land and there would be some demands and, as long as everybody on the aircraft was compliant, everyone would be safe," Deskins said.
It was soon clear this would be far from routine.
Controller: "Okay, we think there may be somebody in the cockpit, right now, taking it over."
Two fighters from Otis Air Force Base are speeding toward New York. They would be too late.
Sgt. Tibbits, First Air Force Public Affairs/B>: "OK, so he's squawking no codes, whatsoever. And he's going 190.....
NEADS Technician: "I'm sorry?"
Tibbits: Wait a minute, a plane just hit....a plane hit the world trade center. I hope that's not the same plane."
TSgt Shelley Watson: "Oh God. Oh my God."
"This was something that we never, in a thousand years, thought would ever happen," said Sr. Master Sgt. Maureen Dooley. "It was unbelievable and surreal. Still, even with a visual impact, you don't believe that it's happening"
Minutes later, a second plane. A second tower.
Lt. Col. Kevin Nasypany: "We need to talk to F.A.A. We need to tell them if this stuff's going keep on going, we need to take those fighters on and then put them over Manhattan. That's the best play right now."
"A little bit of disbelief. What was happening. But, it was reality. Your whole life just changed. How you did business," Nasypany said.
Controller: "American 77, Indy Center, how do you read?"
The bad news continued.
FAA Washington Center: "..Indianapolis Center was working this guy … they lost contact with him. They lost everything. And they don't have any idea where he is or what happened."
The drama shifted to Washington.
Lt. Col. Nasypany: "Foxy, I got a aircraft six miles east of the White House! Get your fighters there as soon as possible."
Ssgt William Huckabone: "We're going to turn and burn it. Crank it up."
NEADS Technician: "Six miles."
Huckabone: "Ma'am, we are going AFIO right now with Quick 2-5. They are going direct Washington."
Jet fighters were launched from Langley Air Base. Again, not in time.
A Minnesota National Guard plane, enroute to its home base, has found American Airlines flight 77.
Gopher 06: "This is Gopher 06, it looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir."
In less than an hour, three planes had been used as weapons to kill thousands. And it still wasn't over.
UAL 93: "United 93, checking in 3-5-oh."
Controller: "United 93, 3-5-zero. Roger."
Cleveland controllers would be witness to a life and death struggle for control of yet another jetliner.
Controller: "United 93, if you hear Cleveland Center, ident, please."
Controller: "United 1523, did you hear some interference on the frequency? Couple of minutes ago. Screaming?"
UAL1523:"Yes I did."
AA1060: American 1060, ditto on the other transmission."
The focus here in Rome had been on trying to track down the hijacked airliners. But now a new issue arose. What to do once those airliners were found. Deaths in the air versus deaths on the ground. Hijacked jetliners would be shot down.
"Pretty much unbelievable. But, again, you have to do what you have to do because you have to save the most amount of lives," Dooley said.
In Syracuse, two F-16s were being prepared to scramble.
Lt. Col. Kevin Nasypany: "Are they loaded?"
Col. Robert Knauff/174th FW: "We've got hot guns. That's all I've got."
Nasypany: "That's good enough for me. I've got another possible aircraft...in Pennsylvania....the call sign ....Is United 93."
Once again, the jets from Syracuse would not be in time.
"There was a feeling of, how are we ever going to get our arms around this? And for me it came when all the air traffic was finally on the ground," Deskins said.
Hours of work remained before members of NEADS could step away and react to what they had witnessed.
For Maureen Dooley it was getting home to her daughters.
"And I saw them and that's when it hit me and I said, wow," Dooley said.
Two daughters who would grow up in a world that had changed in just one day.
The 9-11 Commission praised the efforts by the unit in Rome to respond to a new type of threat. NEADS is now known as EADS. Consolidation now has the men and women of the unit responsible for air defense over the entire eastern United States.