Many Americans who witnessed the events of 9/11 remember where they were that day, but few can say that they played a major role in the initial response.
Retired Brigadier General Kelvin Coppock, a native of Williamsport, served as the U.S. Air Force’s intelligence director when the nation was attacked by terrorists.
His recently published book “Goal 9/11”, covers the history and events that led up to that fateful day, and chronicles Coppock’s military journey and career.
Coppock was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, on the morning of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and the Flight 93 hijacking.
President George Bush was quickly flown to Offutt that day to be briefed on the attacks by Coppock and his team.
“We were in the final stages of a global nuclear exercise, Global Guardian. On the morning of September 11th, we prepared for a nuclear force exercise launch. We were in a high state of readiness. “
Coppock noticed that he had received a message from his bunker room that there had been an attack.
On a television he saw smoke from the North Tower of the World Trade Center and then another plane hit the South Tower.
“We immediately went upstairs to see the vice-commandant. We called the employees together “, he said. “We sent to the underground command center and started collecting data.”
Coppock then learned that the president was on his way to Offut.
“That was a shock” he said.
The president had been in Florida reading to children when he heard of the attacks before being flown to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and then to Offutt.
“It came to the surprise of many” said Coppock.
Coppock assembled his team and informed them that the president needed to be informed of the information they had gathered about the attacks.
“We put together a short presentation about what we knew and what we didn’t know.” he said.
He remembered the President being introspective and analytical when looking at data and studying television monitors.
Coppock could see from the questions Bush asked the importance of reassuring the American people that the nation was safe.
“He was there a little less than two hours” he remembered. “I escorted the President up one floor to a highly secure room.”
The president then held a video teleconference with emergency officers.
Coppock said Bush was flown to Offutt for his secure facilities and world-class communication skills.
Unsurprisingly, Coppock often looks back on those days and is well aware of how dire the situation is and what he had to do.
“I was in the military for 25 years” he said. “The US military is preparing its people for conflict situations. Your background and your knowledge come into play. “
Although there was some level of concern about the situation, he felt good about having a highly competent and trained team around.
He remembered feeling a deep grief over the senseless death and the families of the victims, but also the anger over the attacks.
Coppock said he wanted to write a book that tells a story that wasn’t told before.
“When it comes to what the president did in Omaha, nobody said how he communicated with his team. There was this two hour gap “, he said. “Most people didn’t know that we were already in a high state of readiness.”
Coppock said it was always easy to say with hindsight that the attacks could have been prevented, but collating and understanding the vast amount of information about threats or perceived threats to US security is no easy task.
In the history of the nation, it has also been easy to overlook the many possible attacks that have been prevented, he added.
Coppock, who still has a family in Hillsgrove and is related by blood to the Lewis Lumber Co., left Williamsport as a young boy and lived in various locations as the son of a military career father.
After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he was promoted to officer before embarking on a 30-year military career.
“I would do it again and again” he said. “It’s been an extremely rewarding career. I think we have the best military in the world. “
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