OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Kansas City native and current Kansas State President Richard Myers had an important position on September 11th, 2001. He was acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Myers was days away from confirmation hearings for the job he was about to take. In a matter of minutes that job changed, and he was in the Pentagon’s command center struggling to reach the President, faced with some unbelievable decisions.
“Everybody had a bright idea that day, and nobody knew what the heck was happening. We did not have our feet firmly on the ground in terms of the situation. It was just that chaotic,” Myers told a crowd at the Heart of America Patriot Foundation’s golf banquet Wednesday.
He was in the U.S. Capitol when planes hit the World Trade Center. He was whisked back to the Pentagon when it too was struck.
With Chairman Hugh Shelton in the air over Europe and the Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush, on Air Force One, Myers was one of the nation’s most important decision-makers that day.
“The fire alarms are going off. 20,000 people are leaving. They are forcing them out of the Pentagon. We are trying to swim up stream to get to our little command center,” Myers said.
With three hijacked airliners already striking targets, he was briefed on the plan to ground all air traffic.
Then Myers would learn of another hijacked plane, United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania. With the other planes already striking the heart of American commerce and the military, Myers said he knew the plane was heading for the Capitol.
“Do we take the ultimate course and shoot it down?” he said.
Myers said the final decision would have to come from the President, but he supported the otherwise unthinkable move as part of the rules of engagement.
Weeks after 9/11 he was officially sworn in as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in charge of a military that would wage a war a week later against an enemy unlike any previous chairman had seen.
“We saw on 9/11, we saw non-nation state actors with no armies, air forces or navies attack us, across our Oceans, and cause great fear,” Myers said.
Eighteen years later, he largely stands by all the decisions he and other military leaders made at the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he said the nation has relied too much on the military for success as a war rooted in enemy ideology has waged on.