Alamogordo Daily News, J.R. Oppenheim, Associated Press
ALAMOGORDO, N.M. — Lt. Col. Scott Crogg can still remember the little things as he sat in the cockpit of his F-16 Fighting Falcon 10 years ago.
Clear blue skies, his wingman Maj. Scott Brotherton and no other planes in the sky — except for the large jet trailing behind him.
It was Air Force One, and Crogg was charged with protecting "a valuable package."
"It was an interesting day," he said.
Crogg, a reservist and commander of the 44th Fighter Group at Holloman Air Force Base — he's also a licensed commercial pilot for Delta Airlines — was tasked that day with protecting President George W. Bush and Air Force One as it trekked across the heartland of America in the midst of terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa.
"I was in an F-16 unit in the Texas Air National Guard, which ironically is the same unit President Bush spent his military service time in — the 111th Fighter Squadron at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston," he said. "I was sitting alert the day before 9/11. I never sleep well on alert because there are a lot of other guys out there and you might be awakened in the middle of the night to check out some unknown aircraft or helicopter."
No sooner had Crogg drifted off to sleep after his 24-hour shift, news of an airliner striking the north tower of the World Trade Center was broadcast. Soon after came live video of a second plane crashing into the south tower.
"When I saw the second airplane hit, I think that triggered something in all of us. I made the decision to go into work," he said.
As Ellington's director of operations at the time, Crogg began calling his crew into work. He also began preparing his F-16 for takeoff.
"I took the first person who came in to work — Maj. Shane Brotherton — and we left," he said. "Two planes had already scrambled to meet President Bush on his way west from Sarasota, Fla. We jumped into our planes and proceeded to meet Air Force One."
Air Force One was destined to land first at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to refuel. That is also where the president recorded a quick statement for nationwide broadcast.
But before Air Force One could land, Crogg first had to "sanitize" the area above Barksdale.
"We set up a combat air patrol, which basically is sanitizing the area and making sure there were no threats over the base in Louisiana," he said. "When (Air Force One) got airborne, we followed them to Nebraska. We visually picked them up around 10 a.m. Central Time."
Crogg said the combat air patrol flights over Barksdale that day reminded him of earlier missions he had flown in the Middle East.
"I've flown over that patch of the United States lots of times, but to be flying over that area doing circles, looking for threats and sanitizing — the same thing I'd been doing for years taking off from Saudi Arabia and flying over Iraq as part of NATO's no-fly zone ... that really hit home. And there we were doing it over the United States.
"I think it was at that moment when everyone knew things were going to be different."
Crogg said he was unaware of Air Force One's intended destination, and since military pilots aren't capable of stowing maps of the entire country in the cockpit, he had to rely on maps of Texas and Louisiana — at least for a short time.
"We didn't know where we were going and no one would tell us over the radio, which I don't blame them," he said.
Crogg followed Air Force One for the next hour to Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. After that, he remembers gathering as many maps of the country as he could just in case his mission wasn't complete.
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