The only thing I knew going into our tour of the Pentagon was to prepare for extensive walking and tight security. Following suit, I started my morning molding my outfit around a pair of black flats and triple checking I had my license before we left for the metro. Beyond those simple expectations, it was a mystery for what the day would hold. This uncertainty left me curious, anxious, and kind of hoping I would feel like I was on an episode of the West Wing (in a national security scene, of course).
After arriving at the famous, asymmetrical building and getting past its warranted security check, we were able to spend time in the Pentagon’s visitors lobby. Plenty of photos with a Department of Defense podium ensued because forgetting about our loyal Instagram followers is simply not acceptable in this day and age.
The tour began with a brief introduction and then we were off to explore the headquarters of defense for the most powerful country in the world. With our personable and upbeat guide we saw an exhibit on the history of the building, a retirement ceremony, the 9/11 memorial, and the courtyard at the heart of the campus. Through the tour we were able to see how tragedy and the passing of time forces a government agency to strengthen and evolve. While the experience was insightful and historic, the real excitement began after this tour was over.
Due to our incredible Ohio State network, an alumnus, who currently works in the Pentagon, volunteered to give us a private tour. With now a smaller group and the workday ending for many employees around the building, we were able to go beyond the typical public experience. We set back out into the massive building, first exploring the public affairs hall filled with historic photos and passing by the press briefing room used for any of the Department’s live broadcasts. Then we made our way over to the offices of all the “big dogs” in terms of national defense. The hall was much more aesthetically pleasing than the rest of the building with its wooden trims, detailed rugs, and large paintings of past secretaries. We stopped and examined a rather updated part of one wall—pictures of the new administration including President and Commander and Chief, Donald Trump, the Vice President, the newly confirmed Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were freshly hung. A sense of realization washed over me—these were some of the key players in our national security and foreign policy. While sitting there discussing the new administration in a little more detail, I noticed a group of men coming out of the doors we had just passed. One of the boy’s in our group began to whisper, “Is that Dunford?” (Note: to be completely honest, I blacked out from excitement over the next two minutes so I apologize if my account is not completely accurate.).
Lo and behold the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, one of the most powerful people in the country, was in this group standing less than ten feet away. Surrounding him were all four-star military personnel, clearly noted with the gold stars that lined their shoulders. It was in this moment that I became “starstruck.” The group started walking towards us and I was barely able to stand still. I was in no way able to hide the expression of pure awe on my face, giddy with excitement. The General gave a polite “Hello, how are you all?” as he passed by. In that moment my friend, Vanessa, and I turned to each other, mouths wide open in disbelief. I probably would have melted to the ground if for not in that moment another voice began to speak to us, “Yeah, we’re those grumpy old men in those photos,” pointing back to the frames we had just been looking at. Clearly identifiable with his shiny, silver hair, it was the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Selva, also one of the most powerful people in the country. The group continued on, but my wide eyes and mouth were frozen in complete shock for at least the next ten minutes. The men who are making some of the most vital and irreversible decisions in the world, causally just said hello to us. Was it a dream? Maybe. Did I act in an acceptable way? Probably not. Will I ever forget it? Never.