Tour Guides Highlight Defense Department Headquarters
By Meghan Vittrup
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 20, 2007 Most people would agree that walking six miles a day at work would be a challenge, but one select group of servicemembers here does just that every day. And they do it in formal dress uniforms. And they do it walking backward.
Navy Seaman Sean E. Hernandez, Pentagon tour guide, answers questions from a group during a guided tour of the Pentagon, July 10, 2007. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Pentagon tour guides escort as many as 1,200 people around the nation’s military headquarters every day. The 23 tour guides from across the services are members of their respective service honor guards and are assigned to the tour guide program on temporary tours. They spend time informing guests about the Pentagon’s crucial role in national defense by highlighting several important places throughout the building.
“We take people through the Pentagon and highlight places like the Hall of Heroes, the Sept. 11 memorial, and the center courtyard,” said Navy Seaman Sean E. Hernandez. “We talk a lot about the history as well as the purpose of the Pentagon. … (The tour) gives the visitors the inside scoop, because many people don’t have any idea what goes on here.”
Before being selected as tour guides, the men and women are screened for appearance and uniform, and for their ability to speak clearly, said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Hodgin, director of the Pentagon tours program.
Selection also includes an interview, memorizing a 26-page script of the tour, and an evaluation.
Speaking to strangers is a phobia for many people, but it’s what these young men and women enjoy doing.
“I enjoy speaking with people and networking. As a tour guide, you meet thousands of people a week, anywhere from generals to actors and actresses,” Hernandez said. The guides give tours to various groups of people including, education groups, foreign officials, military officials, and celebrities.
“I enjoyed meeting Gen. Peter Pace (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), because he had taken time away from his daily tasks to come and talk to younger troops. It was important, because someone of his rank doesn’t necessarily have to come down and talk to us,” Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Harden said.
Hodgin recalled a young boy on a tour who said he wanted to be a Marine when he grew up. A Marine tour guide took the “eagle, globe, and anchor” Marine emblem pin off his uniform and gave it to the boy.
The tour guides understand how important their jobs are in connecting the public to the nation’s military headquarters. “It is important to have the building open to educational groups, government officials, and foreign government officials, so that there is a public understanding of what the Pentagon is here for,” Hodgin said.
One group that recently visited the Pentagon was PANIM Summer JAM, a social-action organization for high school students from across the country. “I thought the tour was great, and the students really enjoyed it,” said Lani Hart, a staff member with PANIM Summer JAM. “The tour guides were very funny, had a great sense of humor, and yet they were attentive in answering the questions the students had.”
Visitors on the 45-minute tours are asked to file into formation and walk in the center of the corridors, making sure to stay out of the way of busy Pentagon employees. But in some cases it’s the tour guides, walking backward, who have to make sure to stay clear of the employees, and anything else they may not see.
“There was one time I smacked the pole going onto the 1-2 corridor ramp,” Harden said. “The visitors laughed, and I just laughed it off with them.”
During tours, the guides give facts about a few of the Pentagon’s numerous highlights.
One notable fact mentioned by the guides is that the Pentagon can function like a city in itself and is larger than some cities and towns. The Pentagon is able to meet the daily needs of the nearly 23,000 employees who work there. The main concourse is home to various shops, food venues, a pharmacy, medical facilities, a post office and a bank, among other vendors and services.
The Hall of Heroes is a highlight of the tour. It is dedicated to the 3,444 men and the one woman who have received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor. Located in the Hall of Heroes are three large replicas of the Medal of Honor: one designated for the Army, another for the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, and the third for the Air Force.
Another quick stop on the tour is the five-acre center courtyard. Servicemembers in uniform don’t need to wear their hats or salute senior officers there.
At the Sept. 11 memorial in the building, guides mention that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred exactly 60 years after the building’s groundbreaking on Sept. 11, 1941.
Visitors often stand in the location where American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, killing 125 people in the building and all the passengers aboard the plane.
“My favorite part of the tour was the 9/11 memorial and chapel, just being where the plane hit was a big thing for me,” said Rachel Pankiw, a student with the PANIM Summer JAM program.
Being able to tour the building and see the hustle and bustle of the employees firsthand often spurs questions.
“The types of questions asked by the visitors really depend on the age group of the visitors,” Air Force Airman 1st Class Geoffrey Gross said. “People want to know who works here and how the Pentagon works, because they don’t know.”
While the tour guides enjoy the opportunity to serve at the Pentagon, meeting thousands of people including top military officials, answering questions and having fun with visitors, they still do their best to remain focused on their mission to keep the public informed about what happens at the Pentagon.
“We like to keep the attention on what the military is doing, and explain to the visitors what the Pentagon is here for,” Hodgin said. “People come here to get an understanding, and we want them to leave here with a good image of our national defense.”