The next day, after terrorists crash airliners into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, Maj. Darling rushes to the president's underground chamber at the White House. There, he takes on the task of liaison between the vice president, national security advisor and the Pentagon. He works directly with the National Command Authority, and he's in the room when Vice President Cheney orders two fighter jets to get airborne in order to shoot down United Flight 93.
Throughout the attacks, Maj. Darling witnesses the unprecedented actions that leaders are taking to defend America. As Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and others make decisions at a lightning pace with little or no deliberation, he's there to lend his support.
Follow Darling's story as he becomes a Marine Corps aviator and rises through the ranks to play an incredible role in responding to a crisis that changed the world in 9-11-01: The White House: Twenty-Four Hours inside the President's Bunker.
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24 Hours Inside the President's Bunker9/11/01 Aircraft Routes of Flight
By Robert J. Darling
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Lt. Col. Robert J. Darling, USMC (Ret)
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNorth of Manhattan
Growing up in Newburgh, New York, in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the third of four sons, I knew deep down that the role model my father, Michael Darling, presented as a dedicated police officer, hardworking business owner, and entrepreneur, while honorable, was not exactly the model I saw for myself. My oldest brother, Sean, was by far the hardest working and most studious of all of us-very dependable. There was no question in anyone's mind that he would grow up and do well for himself. Denis was second in line to the Darling family throne. He had the highest IQ out of the bunch and could fix anything. Problem was, he was usually the one who had broken it to begin with. (I was born just a short ten and a half months behind him; we'll get to me soon enough.) Finally, there was my brother Neil. As the youngest of four boys, he grew up to be both smart and tough. As kids, Neil and Denis were regular sparring partners; despite the five-year gap in their ages, they usually fought to a draw. Sean was to be the family lawyer, Denis the engineer, and Neil the bouncer or professional football player.
Although I didn't know precisely what it was I wanted to be, or the trajectory I wanted my life to follow, I did know, all too well, that I was hardly an A student. When asked the ubiquitous question always posed by well-meaning family and friends, "What do you want to do when you grow up, Bob?" I was invariably vague in my response or just preferred to avoid the question altogether. During one such parental counseling session, I distinctly remember my parents voicing their concern over my apparent apathy and general lack of focus or enthusiasm for anything in particular by asking, "Bob, if today were 'pick your career' day at school, what is it you'd choose to be?" My response was usually something along the lines of, "Ahh, nothing, I guess," or "I haven't decided yet." And then there was the "any number of things" response designed to simply deflect the question altogether. I would overhear my frustrated dad voice his concern to my mom by commenting, "That kid is so unambitious that if the chain on his bicycle ever fell off, it would be broken forever."
Learning how to fix something or to figure out how things worked was not my forte; I was the kind of guy whose VCR would flash 12:00 forever, and I'd be just fine with that. But even as I wondered about my future, I drove myself hard on the ice whenever a game of hockey presented itself. It was my one true passion, and it consumed me. My desire to excel on skates enabled me to become a standout player during both my high-school years and as a freshman walk-on player on the Iona College hockey team. I was strong and fast, but I just didn't get as much ice time as I would have liked-just a few minutes per game at times-and I wanted more. As my college years passed, I realized that despite my love of the game, it was apparent that I just didn't have the required talent to make a living playing it.
Choosing to attend Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, had been a great decision. I knew right off that it was the perfect setting for me. The small, private college, run by Iona's Christian Brothers, helped me grow and mature into a young man looking for his niche in life. The one-on-one attention I received from my professors, the camaraderie of my fellow hockey players, and the proximity to Manhattan made my years at Iona truly the best four years of my young-adult life.
Nonetheless, I was anxious about what waited for me beyond college. I struggled to target a post-college profession while, to my increasing unease, most of my buddies seemed to know exactly what they were going to do. Whether they involved graduate school, a corporate management training program, or teaching, their plans went on and on. Even though I wasn't sure what my future held, I knew I liked business, and I knew I liked money. Growing up on the outskirts of the nation's financial center, I figured if there was anything I thought I could be, it was a stockbroker, and so I focused on economics; that became my goal. But, as I entered my junior year, a whole new career dimension unexpectedly opened up right in front of me.
Chapter TwoThe Call of the Corps
One day in early October of 1985, as I was walking across campus, I saw two friends, Tim Sullivan and John McGyver, and couldn't help but notice that their appearances had undergone dramatic transformations over the summer break, to say the very least. Quite frankly, I couldn't believe it. Their heads were closely shaved, and they looked as if they were in better-than-great shape. Somehow, they seemed taller, more confident, and I couldn't help but notice the crisp gait to their walk, rather than the usual slouching saunter seen everywhere on campus. I remember running over to them and asking, "Hey, what happened to you guys?"
McGyver and Sullivan told me they'd spent the summer at Quantico, Virginia, at the Marine Corps' Platoon Leader Class (PLC), an alternative to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Course (NROTC) for college students wanting to become officers in the Marine Corps. Students can enroll in PLC when they are freshmen, sophomores, or juniors. For freshmen or sophomores, enrollment means attending two six-week summer training programs at the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Quantico, while students who enroll in the program as juniors attend one ten-week summer course.
The PLC class sizes are typically two hundred fifty to three hundred students, broken up into four to six platoons. The platoons train in both a physically and emotionally demanding environment: sleep deprivation, endless military tasks, drills, and training, along with incessant memorizations designed to test a candidate's ability to handle stress. But the payoff is sweet. Successful completion of PLC, coupled with graduation from college, means a commission in the United States Marine Corps-no small achievement for a twenty-two-year-old.
As Sullivan and McGyver described their summer and the challenge of PLC, their unbridled enthusiasm for their experiences sparked something in me that I recognized instantly-a newfound path for my life's direction. Their words were like a laser beam pointing the way. After hearing all they had to say, I thought to myself, These two guys are building a future for themselves, and I have to know more about it.
My motivation to serve was not inspired by any sense of family legacy, despite the fact that my dad and my older brother, Denis, had served in the Navy, and my uncle Jack and uncle Ralph had both been Marines. Quite honestly, I'd not given the armed forces much thought, much less serious consideration. The last time I had even thought about the military had been in 1983, after the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. It was an incredibly sad day for America. I remember seeing the terrible images on TV, as young men pulled their fellow Marines from the rubble. It sickened me, and I would never forget it.
I wasted no time in contacting the Marine Corps, and on November 13, 1985, I boarded the train from New Rochelle to Manhattan to keep my appointment with the Marine Corps Selection Officer, Captain Stephen Cooperider. I had no idea what to expect. As I entered the building and walked past the Navy, Army, and Air Force recruiting offices, a chill of nervous excitement ran down my spine. Filled with anticipation, I quickly proceeded to the back of the building, where the sign on the door announced, We make Marines here. If you think you have the mettle to be one of us, come in and learn more about the Few, the Proud, the Marine Corps.
At 6'1", with an imposing physique and a commanding voice, Captain Cooperider was a larger-than-life poster Marine. He invited me into his office and put this college kid at ease as we talked at length about my decision to join and pursue a career in the Corps.
"Why are you here today?" he asked me point-blank. "Did you come here for yourself, or for someone else-your dad or brother, maybe? Are either of them in the military? Why do you want to be a Marine? What do you know about the Marine Corps? What do you hope to accomplish?"
I sat up straight, cleared my throat, and as assertively and confidently as I could, said, "I want to be a part of the best military organization in the world, and I know the Marines are the best. I'm here because I want to be a Marine."
Cooperider wasn't impressed-or if he was, he certainly didn't show it. He quickly made it clear to me that the Marine Corps wasn't looking to hire just help; the Corps needed committed leaders. As Cooperider explained, the PLC program gives candidates the opportunity to see if they have what it takes to be leaders. "We'll be testing, challenging, and evaluating you to see if you have the leadership, integrity, intestinal fortitude, and character we want as a leader in our Corps." He made it perfectly clear about what would be expected of me and there was no doubt in my mind that he meant every word it.
He had my undivided attention and total interest as he went on to explain that if a candidate successfully completed the ten-week PLC program and four years of college, the Marine Corps would make him an offer to be a leader of Marines as a commissioned officer. "If you choose otherwise," said Cooperider, "we'll thank you for giving us your best effort and send you on your way."
As I walked back to Penn Station amid the jostling mid-day crowds, I could barely contain myself. There was no question; I wanted in. I wanted to take the challenge. I wanted to prove to myself, my family, and my friends that I had what it took to accomplish something so few people in our country could. For the first time in my adult life, I felt I had clarity of purpose. But more than that, I was energized and sure of one thing: I had to get back to Iona and get myself ready for what would clearly be the rigors-and, hopefully, the rewards-of PLC. I just had so much to do!
Not long after the interview, Captain Cooperider sent a letter to my parents recommending me for the following summer's Platoon Leader Class. "Robert impresses me with his high degree of self-confidence and strong sense of personal integrity," he wrote. "I am confident he would serve well in officer training." My parents were pleasantly shocked. Though they had always believed that I had it in me to "take the bull by the horns" and be successful at something, they never imagined I'd set my sights as high as attempting to become a Marine Corps officer. It was a tall order for sure, especially for someone once called the most unambitious kid in the world. And after answering all their questions about the program and assuring them that I knew what I was doing, I could see that they were very proud of me, especially my dad.
Later that night, my father pulled me aside to talk privately. "Your uncle Ralph was a Marine staff sergeant who served this country in Korea. I've always had great respect him. Everyone knows the Marines are the toughest of the military services. This isn't going to be easy, Bob, but I'm really proud of you for taking the initiative to attempt this path. Give it your best shot, son, and well done."
I was approved for the PLC program at Quantico's Officer Candidate School the following June. From that point on, a sense of immediacy overtook me and dominated all that I did. Unlike in years past, my focus was knife-sharp. I spared no effort in preparing myself physically, mentally, and academically. I studied intently for every exam, signed up for extra classes to take over the Christmas break, and made every attempt to run at least three miles a day. The intensity of my plans to join the Marine Corps, coupled with my newfound commitment to "get the job done" in one coordinated ten-week pass, marked the beginning of a leadership style that would prove invaluable, time after time, over the course of my career.
I said good-bye to my parents on June 9, 1986, before I boarded a plane for Washington DC and then a bus headed for Virginia and the Marine Corps base at Quantico.
For any PLC/OCS student, the routine is grinding and demanding. It's been known to take its toll on even the toughest candidates, and those who arrive at the school without any understanding of the military can find themselves behind the curve from the get-go. After the initial shock of realizing you're no longer home and you're certainly not in charge of anything going on around you for at least the next seven out of ten weeks (because the PLC program mandates that you must stay enrolled for at least that long before being allowed to drop or quit), you adjust rapidly to the intense, relentless routine. And though I had no idea how to press camouflage utilities, sing cadence, or spit-shine boots, I was smart enough to either figure it out for myself or ask the prior enlisted candidates for help.
Make no mistake about it, though-I took my lumps. I would often joke in letters home to my parents that "I am one of the most popular officer candidates in my platoon. The platoon sergeant and sergeant instructors seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time with me." Translation: I was getting more than my fair share of "in your face" time from angry drill instructors trying to test my mettle. I don't know what it was, because I did my best to keep a low profile-to blend in-but somehow, my name would be the one shouted out, again and again, in the barracks, in the chow hall, and across the training fields. There seemed to be no respite; some mornings, I was in trouble within the first three minutes after getting out of the rack ... and most mornings started at 4:45 am!
I hit a serious low point in July, about midway through my training. It was an incredibly hot, humid, typical Quantico summer day when I received a marginal grade on an important weapons exam. Immediately after, we were ordered to quickly pick up our gear and file out of the classroom for field training. My mind, still dwelling on my marginal academic performance, must have caused my body to hesitate at the drill instructor's last command. Suddenly, without warning, I found myself face-to-face with the ugliest, meanest, angriest Marine who ever walked the planet. He started waving his arms, pointing his hands, and spitting out incoherent words as he nearly pushed his own eyes from their sockets. I was frozen with fear. If I could have simply clicked my heels three times like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and awakened myself from that bad dream, I would have. But it wasn't a dream, and I definitely wasn't in Kansas.
I instinctively locked my body at attention, looked straight ahead, yelled "Yes, Sergeant Instructor!" and prayed this one-way exchange would end before any of the other drill sergeants from the other platoons started smelling the proverbial blood in the water and decided to rush over and join in on the kill. Fortunately, I survived-or at least I hoped I had. With my body still locked at attention and my eyes looking straight forward, he quietly moved behind me, disappearing from my view for what seemed like forever.
What is he doing back there? I thought silently. I remained frozen at the position of attention. I knew he was waiting for me to move or flinch without permission, so he could pounce once again. I wouldn't fall for it. Not this time. Slowly, he appeared in my peripheral vision on the right side of my body, as if examining every pore on my face.
He moved in close to my right ear and softly whispered, "You'd better fix yourself, Candidate, 'cause from here on out, I got both eyes on you." And he turned away and departed. It was over. I quickly gathered myself, shook off the looks from my fellow candidates, and returned to my usual place in formation, back in the third squad, third platoon. I took a deep breath and pressed on. That was painful.
Next stop, the infamous Leadership Reaction Course, or LRC-a maze of nearly unsolvable critical-thinking exercises designed to test one's ability to lead others, react under pressure, and to improvise with ingenuity ... all in a race against time. There were approximately fifteen to twenty different stations, each with an equally challenging but different scenario for testing teamwork, intelligence, physical strength, and resourcefulness. Each team was made up of five or six officer candidates.
Excerpted from 24 Hours Inside the President's Bunker by Robert J. Darling Copyright © 2010 by Lt. Col. Robert J. Darling, USMC (Ret). Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 North of Manhattan....................1
Chapter 2 The Call of the Corps....................5
Chapter 3 My Road to the White House....................15
Chapter 4 White House Duty....................31
Chapter 5 A Morning Unlike Any Other....................37
Chapter 6 The Attack....................43
Chapter 7 The PEOC....................49
Chapter 8 The Aftermath: September 12, 2001....................91
Chapter 9 Angela's Story....................95
Chapter 10 Conclusion....................101
Glossary of Terms....................127
About the Author....................139