'Barksdale and Bossier both stepped up': Airman recalls base's response on 9/11
It was a cool September morning. The sun had yet to touch every inch of Louisiana land, and Barksdale Air Force Base was performing a planned exercise when real-life meant to United States needed protection.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States was attacked and northwest Louisiana was a shining light in the darkness, offering safety to the president and solidifying its place in the narrative of that day.
At 7:59 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 boarded 92 passengers and took off from Boston’s Logan International Airport en route to Los Angeles; 20 minutes later a flight attendant aboard alerted ground personnel that the plane had been hijacked.
American Airlines notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
At 8:40 a.m. Air traffic controllers at The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) alerted North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)’s and Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about the suspected hijacking of Flight 11.
In response, NEADS scrambles two fighter planes located at Cape Cod’s Otis Air National Guard Base to locate and tail Flight 11. The fighter planes had not yet entered the sky when Flight 11 crashed into the north tower.
Initially assuming it was a freak accident, news cameras were rolling eighteen minutes later when another hijacked plane crashed into the south tower.
More than 2,700 people died at the twin towers.
Before the end of the day, 125 military personnel and civilians were killed in the Pentagon, along with all 64 people aboard the airliner that crashed into the military stronghold. A fourth plane was hijacked and brought down in a Pennsylvania field by the passengers. There were no survivors.
President George W. Bush was away from Washington D.C. that day, speaking to a class of students in Florida when an aide informed him of the attacks.
The secret service objected to Bush returning to Washington, and instead, he was taken to Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana.
Not a training operation
Barksdale Air Force Base had been in working operation for 68 years when terrorism shook our nation to its core. On that day it offered safety to the nation's commander in chief.
“Barksdale and Bossier both stepped up on that fateful day and responded when our nation needed help the most,” Retired Chief Master Sergeant USAF Paul LaFlame said. “It was not something that was planned or asked for it was just accomplished by the men and women of Barksdale and the first responders who take on these challenges every single day.”
Although the Shreveport-Bossier area stands over 1,400 miles away from New York City members of the United States Air Force labored away in secret with a national attack underway.
LaFlame was working as a weapons superintendent at Barksdale Air Force Base when the attacks happened, and he remembered the disbelief of the whole situation. On that Tuesday morning, the base was taking part in a planned exercise and everybody was already on high alert. Aircrew members were already at their duty stations.
“As the situation was developing on the news networks, I began to wonder the extent of the attack,” LaFlame said. “Was there more going on than just a scheduled exercise, were we in a much larger real-world event?”
Air Force One made its dramatic appearance in the Shreveport-Bossier area with two fighter jets ushering in the President of the United States.
LaFlame said fighter jets were not a common occurrence. So, when two began to circle the Shreveport-Bossier area people knew something was happening.
At this time chaos was swirling, rumors were flying, phone lines were jammed, and in Bossier City, the main access roads around Barksdale Air Force Base were cut off and closed by screaming sirens and flashing lights.
Air Force One landed abruptly with little notice and Bush was swiftly ushered off the plane around 10:30 a.m. local time.
He delivered his first press conference after the attacks an hour later. The podium where he delivered his speech read Barksdale Air Force Base.
“We all listened to his message and I personally felt very assured that our country was continuing to function and that we were going to be able to survive this horrible chain of events,” LaFlame said.
Bush said, “Our military at home and around the world is on high alert status and we have taken the necessary security precautions to continue the functions of your government.”
In those first moments, as the president tried to calm a terrified nation, Barksdale became a part of history, offering a safe place for the leader of the country.
Today, the podium Bush spoke from is on display at the Barksdale Global Power Museum. Visitors to the museum can view a timeline of the events of that day.
Barksdale is continuing its service to the United States 20 years later with combat power and nuclear global strike.
"Twenty years later, Barksdale continues to provide the nation with winning combat power through conventional and nuclear global strike, worldwide deployable Airmen and a resilient and flourishing community," a Barksdale spokesperson said.
“The fact that our Commander in Chief was here at Barksdale reaffirmed the critical role it plays in the defense of our great nation during times of conflict and strife,” LaFlame said.