Williamsport native briefed president on day of attacks
Many Americans who lived through the events of 9/11 recall where they were that day, but few can say they played a principal role in the intitial response efforts.
Retired Brigadier General Kelvin Coppock, a Williamsport native, served as director of Intelligence in the U.S. Air Force when the nation came under attack by terrorists.
His recently released book, “Destination 9/11,” includes history and events leading to that fateful day and chronicles Coppock’s military journey and career.
Coppock was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, the morning of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the hijacking of Flight 93.
President George Bush was quickly flown to Offutt that day to be briefed by Coppock and his team on the attacks.
“We were at the end phase of a global nuclear exercise, Global Guardian. On the morning of 9/11, we were getting ready to do an exercise launch of nuclear forces. We were at a high state of readiness.”
Coppock noted he received word 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 of the vice commander. We called the staff together,” he said. “We sent to the underground command center and started gathering data.”
Coppock then got word that the President was on his way to Offut.
“That was kind of a shock,” he said.
The President had been in Florida reading to children when he received word of the attacks before being flown to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and then to Offutt.
“He arrived to the surprise of many,” Coppock said.
Coppock gathered his team and apprised them that the President had to be briefed on information they had gathered about the attacks.
“We put together a short presentation on what we knew and didn’t know,” he said.
He recalled the President as being introspective and analytical as he considered data and studied TV monitors.
Coppock could tell from the questions Bush asked that it was important he assure the American people that the nation was safe.
“He was there a little less than two hours,” he recalled. “I escorted the President one floor up to one highly secure room.”
The President then held a remote video tele-conference with emergency operations officials.
Coppock said Bush had been flown to Offutt because of its secure facilities and its top communications capabilities.
Not surprisingly, Coppock often looks back on that day and can certainly realize the enormity of the situation and what he had to do.
“I had been in the military 25 years at that time,” he said. “The U.S. military prepares its people for conflict situations. Your background and knowledge kicks in.”
While there was a certain degree of anxiety surrounding the situation, he felt good in having a highly capable and trained team around him.
He recalled feeling a deep sadness for the senseless deaths and for the families of the victims but also anger over the attacks.
Coppock said he wanted to write a book that told a story not previously told.
“When it comes to what the President did in Omaha, no one told how he communicated with his team. There was this two-hour gap,” he said. “Most people didn’t know that we were on a high state of readiness already.”
Coppock said it’s always easy in retrospect to say the attacks could have been prevented, but putting together and making sense of the multitude of information regarding threats or perceived threats to U.S. security is no easy task.
Through the nation’s history, it’s been easy as well to overlook the many potential attacks that have been prevented, he added.
Coppock, who still has family in Hillsgrove and blood ties to the Lewis Lumber Co. there, left Williamsport while still a young boy and lived in different places as the son of a military career father.
He was commissioned as an officer upon graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before embarking on a 30-year military career.
“I would do it all over again,” he said. “It was an extremely rewarding career. I think we have the best military in the world.”