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Monday, June 29, 2009


Dick Williams

Jim, you probably don't have too many regulars who've been on the grounds of Camp David since the place is buttoned up tight. I don't believe it's open to the public other than possibly to families of those who work there one or two days a year.

In my USAF life from 1970 to 1971 I was assigned to Ft. Ritchie, MD - a small army post in the Catoctin Mountains northwest of Washington DC. Closest towns were Hagerstown and Thurmont, MD. Beautiful setting on the ridgeline of the Catoctin Mountains and the Appalachian Trail ran just behind the Fort.

My actual duty was inside Raven Rock Mountain - known as Site R or the Alternate National Military Command Center, ANMCC - the underground Pentagon. ANMCC was a cold war site inside a granite mountain with self contained water, power and utilities. The three story structure was mounted on huge springs inside a hollowed out portion of the mountain and behind double blast doors - similar to NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain.

My primary duty was weather support for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in case they and the President had to relocate to ANMCC. This was VP Cheney's "underground bunker" after 9/11. There's a another DC alternate in WV at Weather Mountain. Ft. Ritchie, the Army Post, is closed as a military base but a variety of functions continue within Site R. I don't know how much of the operation I knew is intact.

An additional duty we had was forecasting weather for Presidental helicopter flights to and from Camp David which was nearby - about 6 miles south of Ft. Ritchie. Site R was on the MD side - Ft. Ritchie and Camp David are on the MD side of the MD/PA border.

Richard Nixon was President and on one of his moves to Camp David I went over to observe the landing and visit the facility.

Normally the forecaster worked from our office inside the mountain so we were half a mile underground, with no nearby surface obs forecasting for Marine One helicopter landings on a mountaintop we couldn't see. The workaround was calling our wives back at Ft. Ritchie and asking them what the weather was. We did send an enlisted observer to Camp David just prior to the landing but all the prelim stuff was done using surrounding obs and our wives as observers. Pretty odd and the Detachment even gave the wives a mock certificate acknowledging their work in getting the President safely to Camp David. When weather was too bad to fly they'd use the famous Presidential Motorcade from DC to Camp David or in some cases land the helicopter at the base of the mountain in Thurmont and motorcade the last 15 miles up to Camp David.

I saw Nixon land and step off the helicopter. I later got a tour of Marine One - and a drive around Camp David and lunch in the crew's mess. Camp David is operated by the Navy and keeps Navy customs and procedures. Don't know if that's still the case. Probably so.

Pretty place, rustic and outwardly low key although there were some other things going on there in addition to it being strictly a Presidential retreat. Lots of comms gear as you'd expect - even in 1970. Everything was shrouded in the outward look of a mountain camp and for the most part that was true.

Interesting assignment - my final year in the Air Force before I returned to civilian life and moved to Kansas City.


Site R photos: http://ludb.clui.org/ex/i/PA3183/

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