9-11: Exercise Vigilant Guardian; a post script



There is some confusion as to whether or not Exercise Vigilant Guardian interfered with NEADS Sector Operations Control Center (SOCC) floor operations during the defense against the hijackings.  The primary source evidence is that there was no interference.

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to place the evidence in perspective, given that we now know how Exercise Vigilant Guardian 01 was conducted.

Exercise Vigilant Guardian perspective

The Exercise was a series of discrete events at least up to and including the morning of 9-11.  There was no continuous flow of exercise traffic, injects, or simulated radar.  I have described that series of discrete events for each exercise day under the category “Exercise Vigilant Guardian.”

A background announcement on Sep 6, announced that exercise hours would be 1000-2200 hours each day, including weekends, until 24-hour manning was required.  0906200336 Exercise Hours There was occasional discussion and speculation on the SOCC floor in succeeding days as to when 24-hour manning would start.  The consensus was that it would be either Sep 11 or Sep 12.

As late as the evening of Sep 10, the SOCC was still on a three shift status.  0910231330 Nasypany status However, a comment by Capt Shelley mid-morning of Sep 11 indicated that twelve hour shifts had started.  09111134326 Captain Shelley Comment

Actual Exercise Hours

Despite the announced hours the start time was flexible, typically at mid-morning, but not always.  The start time was apparently predicated more on needed exercise play rather than a set schedule.

One day’s (Sep 6) major event did not begin until late afternoon.  On another day (Sep 10) there was an early morning event to test NEADS ability to sustain operations given a mechanical failure to an air defense fighter.  During the night of Sep 10-11 there was an event dedicated solely to expansion, the ability of one CONR sector to cover for another.

On at least one occasion there was middle-of-the-night position training, a narrowly focused simulation to qualify an Identification Technician.  That training required the presence of one or two controllers in the exercise cell.

On the morning of 9-11 as the hijacker attack began to unfold unbeknownst to NEADS, FAA and the nation there was no exercise activity ongoing on the SOCC floor.  Anecdotal accounts indicate that NEADS was poised waiting for an exercise to start that never came.  Or did it?

Exercise Vigilant Guardian Last Vestiges

There were no exercise injects, no calls from the exercise cell, no messages, nothing to interfere with the real world battle that commenced, for NEADS, at 0830.

However, the exercise simulated radar feed had not been turned off and that feed apparently started around 0930, a time consistent with start of the exercise day on Sep 7 and Sep 9.

At 093016, a voice on the MCC channel, most likely Major Nasypany [my estimate, based on the voice] said, “you know what get rid of this God dam sim, turn your, hey, turn the sim switches off, get rid of that crap! ”  0911130735 Get Rid of That Crap Nasypany’s order was carried out in less than ten seconds.

Here is an audio clip of the surveillance loop (the trackers) from 0928 to 0931.  The trackers were looking for AA 11 (radar only) and were glancing at CNN on one of the SOCC display screens. At 093025 the announcement ordered by Major Nasypany is made to “all surveillance,” “turn off your sim switches.”  0911130304 Shut Sim Switches Down

It is clear from this primary source record that the officer-in-charge of the SOCC floor, Major Nasypany, immediately recognized that the exercise electronic flow had started and he took immediate action to stop the interference.

Exercise Vigilant Guardian 01 died a swift death at the hands of Major Nasypany.  The exercise interruption was a brief transient, a blip on the screen, nothing more.

(Paragraph updated 4/24/11) The actions of the chain of command were less swift but just as sure. Exercise Vigilant Guardian was buried via a conference call by NORAD.  The first NORAD call was to Capt Nagel from Capt Taylor with instructions to terminate all exercise inputs.  Nagel immediately referred him to an admin number.  In this next clip, in context, we hear the Taylor call and Nagel’s response.  Interestingly, Nagel first answerd the phone, “Sim,” he had been working in the exercise cell.  He immediately corrected himself.  The call came as NEADS was looking for UA 93, without success since it was down, and was following D 1989. The audio file begins at 1010 EDT and Taylor’s call comes a minute later.  0911132648 First NORAD call to terminate

Other Comments

The death rattle of Exercise Vigilant Guardian was occasionally heard on the SOCC floor as people mused, joked, or otherwise commented on the situation, before and after its demise. The rattle began in the surveillance section as they defined a search area to look for AA 11.  The time was 0844.  The AST commented, “the exercise is going to have to go on a little bit of hold here,” as he shifted manpower to hunt for an ill-defined target, but one with a “Z point around which a 25-mile box was designated for search.  Note that he equated a primary target to a search target.  0911122413 Exercise going on hold

A few seconds earlier, Major Fox, who was prone to muse anyway–“how do we know the balloon was friendly?”–commented on the MCC channel, “I’ve never seen so much real world stuff happen during an exercise.” Here, Fox is commenting on the time frame of the exercise, based on his years-long experience at NEADS.  0911121800 Real world during exercise Fox

More than an hour later, after the exercise feed had been terminated to the NEADS SOCC floor, a person in the weapons section commented to no one in particular, “you sure this isn’t an exercise,” and then laughed.  0911132558 Sure it isn’t exercise