September 15, 2001
Security forces chief takes charge
by Tech. Sgt. Scott Elliott
Air Force Print News
If the Air Force's senior enlisted security forces person had any doubts as to what was happening to America on the morning of Sept. 11, they were erased by a deafening roar, a blast of heat and a partially collapsed ceiling.
"I saw (on TV) the second airliner hit the World Trade Center," said Chief Master Sgt. John Monaccio, Air Force Security Forces career field manager. "Having been a cop for 25 years, I was able to make the connection that it was terrorist activity."
That relatively simple deduction was the last easy task the chief would face for the next few days.
The chief's office was in the D Ring of the Pentagon's newly renovated section, adjacent to where the third hijacked airliner crashed.
"If the plane had come in straight, rather than at an angle, I think we'd have all been killed," he said.
After securing classified information and helping evacuate the dazed secretary, Monaccio heard some nearby sailors yelling for help.
"I don't know how they did it, but some Navy folks heard people trapped inside an electrical vault," Monaccio said. "A few of us got fire extinguishers and formed a chain to dig our way through the debris -- twisted steel, plaster, you name it. Everything was on fire.
"We had to rotate in and out of the vault because the smoke made it impossible to stay in for very long," he said. "After about 45 minutes, we got five people out."
Monaccio and the others dipped their T-shirts in puddles of grimy water and wore them as masks in an effort to continue their rescue efforts. When the fire department arrived, they had to physically remove the military members from the scene.
"The Navy people were beside themselves," he said. "They didn't want to leave anyone behind. They would have stayed there and died trying if the firefighters hadn't forced them out."
The chief and fellow security forces people remained on the scene until 8 p.m. EDT to help FBI agents collect evidence. He returned the next morning to continue crime scene security, but later found himself escorting an FBI-led film crew and being interviewed by a congressional delegation.
"I've been in a lot of situations over the years, but this was just amazing," he said. "The military discipline, training and leadership really came through here. We were able to immediately organize and take orders, and that really made a difference in being able to save five lives.
"I feel guilty being singled out," Monaccio said. "I mean, yeah, I was there, but it was entirely a team effort. There were Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines involved. This was our nation's military."