Pentagon Opens to Tourists, but Restricts Visits to Schoolchildren
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2002 The Pentagon opened its doors to tourists Feb. 6 for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. But, the tours are restricted to school groups only.
"We followed the White House's lead," said DoD spokesman Dave Evans. "They've put together a set of guidelines for their tours that are restricted to just the schools. So we decided to go with the same thing and put a couple of other stipulations in, such as requests have to come in writing on the school letterhead or school district letterhead."
Army Sgt. Robert L. Hull walks backwards as he leads high school students on a walking tour of the Pentagon. The students were the first to tour the Pentagon since 9/11. Photo by Rudi Williams.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Schools have to provide dates, time and the names of the participants no later than two weeks before the tour, Evans noted. "Once they get here, they have to show picture identification and go through the metal detectors," he said. "They're kept under control the whole time they're in the building. It's not much different than the way it was before, it just a little more obvious."
The first visitors were top high school students from throughout the country who are in Washington participating in the Presidential classroom program. The program gives some of the nation's most promising high school students a chance to spend a week in the nation's capital learning about how the federal government works.
All the security and controls didn't dampen 16-year-old Christine Bentley's enthusiasm about visiting the Pentagon. "It's really cool and I might work here some day," Bentley beamed after the hour-long tour. She's a junior at Pleasant High School in Marion, Ohio.
"I know we only saw the tip of the iceberg in the tourist sections, but it's still impressive to be here, especially in the wake of what's happened recently," said Neal Tesseyman, 16, a junior at Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas. "I'm impressed with the efforts that our military takes to inform the public to let us see what goes on and keep us up to date. That shows that they're responsible. I was looking forward to seeing the Pentagon as part of this trip."
Mathew Markutis, 16, of Long Beach, Calif., said the Pentagon tour "was really, really cool. It was informative as well as we actually got to see the inside. We were in awe of the actual structure of the thing. Walking down all of the corridors and seeing all the history that has gone on here in this building was pretty amazing.
"The tour bus drove around and we were able to see the rebuilding of the whole 9/11 thing," Markutis said. "It's being rebuilt really fast. I feel a little relieved that we were able to start the rebuilding so we could kind of put it behind us and focus on the war on terrorism."
After seeing the wall with the names of the victims at the Pentagon crash site, Markutis said, "It's still shocking because that wall shows you how many people died in this heinous act and gets you angry."
Emily Petrella, 17, a senior at Yorkville (Ill.) High School, said, "my heart goes out to all those in the services, including my father, who is a retired Air Force National Guard lieutenant colonel."
Petrella said touring the Pentagon "has motivated me so much more to go into the Air Force. I've applied to the Air Force Academy and I have a congressional nomination. I'm waiting to hear from the presidential nomination as well.
"I love sports medicine, but it's very difficult to become a doctor in the Air Force," Petrella said. "So realistically speaking, I would love to do military strategy like flight patterns."
Her father, Edward Petrella, is an academy alumnus and is encouraging her to become a pilot, as he was. But she thinks her eyesight might prevent that.
"I've been to ground zero in New York City several times, so it was kind of the same feeling when I saw the Pentagon site," Petrella said. "I have a lot of compassion and my heart sunk at first when I thought about all the people that suffered and the people who are rebuilding it to bring the country back together. I'm glad we're doing that, but it's a shame that it had to take a tragedy to bring us so close."
Army ROTC cadet Capt. Anjuli Thanki, a senior at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo., said she was still angry when she saw ground zero at the Pentagon. "They told us crews are working 24 hours a day so we can rededicate it on Sept. 11 this year and I was very impressed by that," said Thanki, who plans to take ROTC in college to become a commissioned officer.