Rappahannock Raiders Tour the Pentagon.by: C/1LT Rebecca Gilliland, Battalion S5
On September 10th, exactly one day before the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon, 12 Cadets from Rappahannock High School’s JROTC embarked upon a rare trip to the Pentagon located in Arlington, VA. This trip had been carefully planned and coordinated five months prior by our SAI, Lt. Col. Birdsong. Cadets had to arrive at the school at approximately 0530 and depart at 0600 in order to avoid the onslaught of traffic and meet our 0900 link up time. Our original plan was to tour the Pentagon, which is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, and the Arlington National Cemetery. The latter did not occur due to time constraints.
Accompanying me (Rebecca Gilliland) on this opportunity were the following Cadets: Devinity Ashton, Steven Barrett, Wyatt English, James Hall, Adam Hayden, Chy’Nia Johnson, Matthew Karvetski, Krista Kendrick, Justin Moss, Kameron Rich, Marisol Rodriguez, Rayshawn Veney and China Watt. We were chaperoned by Mrs. Geraldine Johnson, Mrs. Lori Webb, the Chairman of the School Board, Mr. John Brown, Lt. Col. Birdsong and our driver Mr. Nate Johnson. Enroute, we stopped for a much needed breakfast break at Chick-fil-A. After enduring the long, grueling, hot bus ride we were not only happy to arrive at the Pentagon but also to find a bathroom. Just when we thought everything was starting to fall into place, before we could make our pilgrimage to the bathroom or even get into the Pentagon, we had to face the scrutiny of security. Soon we found ourselves in an enclosed holding area crammed with hundreds of people, all vying for access into the halls of the Pentagon. After every Cadet removed their jackets, emptied their pockets, showed their ID’s and recited addresses and birthdates; we finally could enter the Pentagon. If you thought that this was the end, it was not; immediately afterward, we moved to yet another long line to get our ID’s rechecked and to receive a visitor’s pass. Next stop was that long awaited restroom break! Finally, the time had come to begin our tour of the Pentagon.
We were gladly met and escorted by Colonel (Retired) Thomas Shubert and Lt. Col. Sarah Custer who both work for the Secretary of the Air Force. They not only gave us a wonderful tour but made it their goal to teach us all something new. One of the first things we learned was that construction of the Pentagon began on September 11, 1941 and was completed approximately 16 months later on January 15, 1943. Mr. Shubert informed us that over 26,000 military, civilian and contract personnel work at the Pentagon. We were all surprised to learn that the Pentagon is a city within a city. By this I mean that they have anything you ever need, including a fast food court, pharmacies, jewelry stores, dry cleaners, gyms, gift and flower shops and your other typical stores. Additionally, we toured the area where the attack occurred. Cadet English was surprised to learn that the west façade where American Airlines flight 77 hit at 9:37 am was the only place that was evacuated during the attack. Cadet Kendrick’s favorite portion of the tour was getting to see the 9/11 memorial. This is in the direct area where the plane struck, claiming the lives of 184 individuals including the members aboard the plane. This memorial lists upon a wall the names of all lives lost; it also contains a guest book that anyone can sign when you visit.
Upon leaving this area, our guides took us to the Central Plaza, a five acre courtyard located in the center of the Pentagon. From there we went to one of everyone’s favorite spots—the food court! The food court proved to be a busy hub of activity, but well worth it. Here it seemed as though we saw any and every one. After dining, we walked through the United Nation’s and Disaster Relief portions of the Pentagon enroute to Cadet Hall’s favorite part of the tour. Our guides escorted us through the halls of the Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Debra Lee James, the Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Ashton Carter and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. As we walked through these various halls, we were overwhelmed by the number of General Officers parading through.
Soon we found ourselves in the Hall of Heroes, a room dedicated to the more than 3,640 recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military decoration which is awarded for acts of bravery in combat. On the walls are etched the names of every recipient. After Mr. Shubert and Lt. Col. Custer explained to us the significance of the Hall of Heroes, they then presented each of us with a Pentagon challenge coin to commemorate our tour. These small medallions typically bear an organization’s emblem and are carried to prove membership when challenged and to increase morale.
They also are given in recognition of visits to an organization. Colonel Custer also gave a 332nd Expeditionary Squadron “Red Tails” coin, which traces its lineage back to the Tuskegee Airmen. This will be awarded to the Cadet who writes the best essay on the Tuskegee Airmen.
Lastly, as we prepared to depart, we made one minor stop at one of the Pentagon’s numerous gift shops for a few souvenir items. Fortunately for us, the line to exit the Pentagon was far shorter than to enter. Even though we were all sad to leave, we all have stories to tell for a lifetime; especially on the way back to Warsaw while stuck in traffic for at least 2 hours. I guess it would have been a good idea to use the bathroom before we left!
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