Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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  • September 11--Pentagon
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Balisle, Phillip RADM

9/11 Pentagon Attack Oral History

"We now have a mission that is new and different and it's very, very significant."

Date of Interview: 28 June 2002

Interviewers: CAPT Gary Hall & CAPT Michael McDaniel, USNR, Navy Combat Documentation Detachment 206

At the time of the attack, RADM Balisle was Director, Surface Warfare (N76) on the Staff of the Chief of Naval Operations.  On the morning of the attack, he was in his office at the Pentagon.

Oral History Summary:

RADM Balisle was in his office at the Pentagon on the morning of the attack.  Although his office was not in the direct path of the plane, it was near enough that he could see and feel the results of the impact.  He and some of his staff had been watching the news of the events in New York City, but it did not immediately occur to him that the explosion at the Pentagon was caused by another airplane - he thought it was a bomb.  His evacuation attempts were initially blocked by the amount of debris in the passageways.  Once he evacuated to the alley between C and B Rings, he witnessed several individuals jumping from offices on the second deck. Despite initial attempts to reenter the building to help evacuations, the smoke was so black and thick, it would have been a near impossible task.  RADM Balisle and others eventually made their way outside of the Pentagon structure.  

Upon his escape from the scene, he immediately began working to reconstitute his office.  Part of those efforts involved locating all of his staff.  As soon as he was able, he made his way to their makeshift offices in Crystal City.  It was important that they continue to function, because the world immediately changed in the moment of the attacks.  

In his oral history, RADM Balisle discussed at length the extraordinary and heroic efforts of the people he was surrounded by on the day of the attack and the days after and how it all reflected military training in action.  He also discussed the importance of emergency preparedness and the differences between preparedness at sea versus shore.  He talked about the impact of the attacks and the aftermath on how commands view their role in the warfighting effort, particularly shore based commands in the continental United States.  As a senior leader, he knew it would be important to monitor for evidence of post traumatic stress and trauma among his staff, and he discussed post incident crisis monitoring and awareness.  He also discussed the impact of the attacks on homeland defense and how personal and professional lives change as a result.

Published: Sun Jun 13 16:47:40 EDT 2021