Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Pentagon

Latitude: 38°52'15.00"N
Longitude: 77° 3'21.00"W
In order to tour the Pentagon, you must go through a simple security procedure and book a time slot at least 1 week in advance.  So, having always wanted to see the inside of the world's largest non-high rise office building, I prepared accordingly.  I rode the Metro to the Pentagon stop, and walked to the first checkpoint where there was a guard checking for the proper paperwork that consisted of an email saying "Congratulations!" and your tour number.  This took less than 1 minute and I was inside the building.  The tour departure point is a seating area near a souvenir boutique beyond a metal detector.  The guards were all armed with automatic weapons, so this is not a place where you want to seem suspicious.  I was relaxed and went to the ticket window where a clerk checked my name off of the list for the time slot.  My tour had about 20-25 people in it.  After about 20 minutes in the first area, they moved us to a theater seating area and gave us each a badge, where we were briefed on how to act (don't use the bathrooms, don't drink from the waterfountains, and just follow instructions).

 The marine guide was very good and well trained.  He attempted to make small talk with the group, which at times were awkwardly non-communcative, probably because they were intimidated.  This briefing took about 10-15 minutes.  The tour was fast paced and rather disorientating and I have no idea how we actually moved through the building.  I am fairly sure that we stayed in the outer ring "E" for most of the tour.  The corridors that we walked through were decorated with thematic memoribilia.  There was one for New Zealand / Australia and US cooperation, one filled with NATO flags,  one honoring the circumnavigation of the globe by the Navy, one honoring the military's peacetime contributions.  Pretty cool stuff.  We then went to the site of the 9/11 attack, where there is a memorial to the victims, both on the plane and in the building.  I was moved by it.  You can look out of the window and see the memorial garden where each victim is honored with a bench.  What a tragic waste of innocent life.  The guide mentioned that the recoonstruction was finished ahead of schedule and under budget due to the dedication and pride of the contractors.

What impressed me the most about the people of the Pentagon was the professionalism, efficiency and purpose that was displayed by every person I observed.  The building itself is a marvel of technology.  Over 100,000 miles of telephone wire for example.  The building was a rush job built during WW2, without steel, and is simply reinforced concrete block.  The windows are new, but very simple steel frames with BR glazing,  The 5 acre interior courtyard was pretty neat.  The guard mentioned that at the center was the former location of what was once considered "the most dangerous hot dog stand in the world" as many Russian nukes were aimed directly for it.  He also mentioned that at one time the stand covered a tunnel used by enemy agents to take info out without detection.  The end of the tour put us back in the lobby where there are two outstanding memorials to the victims of 9/11.  On one side is a flag quilt with all of the names, and on the opposite side each person's picture is displayed.

I left feeling proud and a believer in the code of conduct of the US military.  This building glows with honor and the personal sacrifices of thousands of individuals all working towaards a higher purpose.  Well worth the trip, and certainly a true reflection of how a building can encapsulate a culture.

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