The Text Content on Page 1 of the Hagerstown Morning Herald, July25, 1977 is:
Buried in the bowels of underground Pentagon a mountain waits for warBy PAUL BERTORELLI Blue Ridge Summit Pa
If a nuclear war breaks out Joe Bowman may find out about it as quickly as the President of the United States.
Just a hundred yards from Bowman’s backyard at the base of Raven Rock Mountain lies a helicopter pad. The landing pad would be the main arrival point for top government and military leaders who would staff the military command center buried inside the mountain.
The secret facility known officially as the Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC) is commonly called The Underground Pentagon or more simply The Rock. Located just off of Pennsylvania Route16 between Blue Ridge Summit and Gettysburg, The Rock is designed to be the nerve center for the US military if a similar center in the Pentagon is knocked out, it is well prepared to do the job Buried deep inside a mountain made of the hardest rock on the East Coast.
The Rock can support 3000 persons for a month it includes apartments for the President and top government officials, it has its own water electrical and air filtration systems it has communications facilities that permit military leaders to communicate with US forces across the globe as easily as if they were linked by telephone.
Even though it is a backup center the AMNCC is manned 24 hours a day seven days a week. Intelligence data from all over the world is funneled into the mountain and stored in a computer for safe keeping. But for all its sophistication The Rock isn’t invulnerable
When the military built it at the dawn of the nuclear age in the early 1950’s it was thought to be virtually bombproof Since then however improvements in the accuracy and power of Soviet nuclear weapons have made it unlikely that the facility would survive a direct attack against it. Still military leaders say The Rock is and will remain a mainstay in the US defense network. For without a command center capable of surviving at least the opening rounds of a nuclear exchange the US arsenal of bombers missiles and submarines would be turned into so many useless clay pigeons.
Even as the radioactive dust settled after the first nuclear blast over Hiroshima in 1945 American defense planners knew they would soon face a new reality The US mainland long protected from its enemies by oceans would be vulnerable to a quick and devastating attack with nuclear weapons. And Pentagon the main command center had become a sitting duck
So after World War II military leaders began looking for a place to bury a command center that could be made They settled on a 1100 acre site on Raven Rock Mountain It was located 60 miles from Washington far enough from the capital to escape the effects of an attack there but within quick flying range. Raven Rock had another advantage it was only five miles from the US Army’s Ft Ritchie an installation that had been used during World War II for top secret training. Since it was a relatively secluded base close by Ft Ritchie got the job of being The Rocks logistical and technical support base.
After the site was agreed on men and machines converged on the mountain in January 1951. The contractors toiled at a feverish pace.” We were real busy all right. We worked 24 hours a day blasting and hauling rock out of there” recalls one worker who drove a truck at the site. Half mile long tunnels were drilled into the center of the mountain and were curved gently to reduce effects of a blast.
Inside the caverns at the end of the tunnels the military constructed five windowless buildings set in shock resistant foundations. According to a US Army Corps of Engineers report published at the time 500,000 cubic yards of stone were eventually hauled from the tunnels. As work inside the mountain drew to a close in 1953 a separate but related project began on a tract of government land near Sharpsburg, “A great field of giant poles 150 feet high has sprung up 10 miles south of this Western Maryland community” a1953 Washington Post report from Hagerstown said.
That project along with a similar one near Greencastle Pa was built as a communication system for The Rock. Known as Site B and Site A respectively both were abandoned in the 1960’s when communication improvements made the facilities obsolete. Today according to military sources The Rock can communicate with any part of the world without the use of antennas located anywhere near Raven Rock.
The Heart of The Rock
The heart of The Rock is right out of Dr. Strangelove. It is the Emergency Conference Room the place where a command to launch a nuclear attack might someday be given. Inside this room is a large rectangular conference table lined with chairs for the President and his top advisors. On the walls of room, six huge screens are available to display the latest intelligence information. Two on either side of the screens stand ready for officers who would give a description in “Huntley Brinkley” style according to a Pentagon source
Also inside The Rock is the Current Action Center a military intelligence unit that keeps a constant watch on all parts of the globe. If trouble flares in a coastal South American country for example the CAC can warn American ships or planes in the area of possible danger. “The Current Action Center in the Pentagon acts as a trip wire. It alerts the Joint Chief of Staff and the Secretary of Defense of events in the world which may require the use of US forces” explains Anderson Atkinson the Air Force general who oversees The Rocks communications. If the CAC signals a crisis of major importance Emergency Conference Room would be manned and orders would then be sent out over its extensive com network.
So far all of the nation’s major crises have been handled through a command center at the Pentagon which is identical to the one inside The Rock.
But on several occasions a rise in world tension has prompted the military to send senior officers to The Rock” to spread them around just in case” If the Pentagon were threatened or knocked out the President could quickly helicopter from the White House to Raven Rock Military sources won’t say how fast the President could get to The Rock but they say its “fast enough”. At any rate command can be swiftly shifted from Washington to Raven Rock “In less than a second we can push the button here and they have it command up there at the alternate” says Gen Atkinson.
The Rock is equipped with the same kind of computer and radio equipment that the Pentagon has and the steady stream of information gathered by military intelligence is sent to both centers. Briefings given frequently at the Pentagon center are broadcasted simultaneously to The Rock via closed circuit television. “They are nearly identical in operation. The only thing they don’t share is the coffee pot” says one Pentagon source.
From rock to rock pile
For all the efforts taken to protect it the Soviet Union is known to have bombs big enough and missiles accurate enough to wipe out The Rock. A probe by the House Committee on Armed Services last year concluded that most military command centers and their communications networks would not survive a nuclear attack directed against them. The Rock was included in that finding.
The military apparently has foreseen that problem and acted to correct it. In addition to building command centers at the Pentagon and inside The Rock it has equipped three Air Force 747s - “the so called doomsday planes” - to serve as airborne nerve centers.
But Gen Atkinson says The Rock is by no means obsolete because there is no certainty it would be successfully attacked... Some military strategist believes an enemy might spare command centers in a surprise attack. With no command centers they reason the US would be unable to call back a massive retaliation strike. Still the military has continuously devised schemes to improve The Rock Atkinson says he had seen a number of proposals to make underground command post harder than it is. He declines to discuss house plans are.
Rep Bob Daniel of Virginia a member of the investigations committee agrees with military planners who argue that even though The Rock isn’t bomb proof it would be unwise to rely solely on the aircraft for command. “I wouldn’t recommend its destruction now” Daniel says.
The military has reviewed the House report and is expected In September to present its own recommendations to the Congress for better command and control. Military officials refuse to say if improvements to The Rock will be among those recommendations.
Whether improvements are suggested or not may be irrelevant when it comes to the future of The Rock. The military so far hasn’t come up with anything to beat the Raven Rock Mountain installation. And until it does The Rock is liable to stay put. Says Atkinson” I feel very comfortable with the system I’m convinced we can direct our forces and I live with every day”.
Joe Bowman lives with it every day too although worries about how The Rock might survive a nuclear attack are the farthest thing from his mind.’ Well there isn’t much use to worry about it. Once it happens there won’t be much left here anyhow” says Bowman.