A day at The Pentagon.
Friday the 13th turned out to be very lucky.
We were invited to a private tour of The Pentagon.
We were in DC on other business and a good friend's mother works in the Pentagon. She's a Lieutenant in the Air Force and she was able to give us time for the full tour.
And we just happened to be there on the monthly welcome to the Wounded Warriors. Every month a group of combat wounded Service Members are brought to The Pentagon for a welcome and luncheon.
It was, perhaps, one of the most powerful things I've ever experienced. As we got to the floor where the welcome was to begin, we saw the wide halls lined with what could have been thousands of people. Because of the shape of the building, halls bend ahead and behind you, but on both sides of the wide halls, uniformed Pentagon personnel were lined up, shoulder to shoulder, clapping.
We took out place and before long, an honor guard of three appeared coming around the counter, very slowly walking backwards. They'd stop for a few seconds, then continue to walk lockstep backwards... They were the front guard for several dozen wounded Veterans. They came rolling in wheelchairs, walking on crutches, being pushed. As they walked past, those lining the halls would step forward to thank them and shake their hands. A young man with two prosthetic legs was pushing another young Soldier in a wheelchair.
Seeing these young men and women tore my heart out. I reached out to thank them as they came by, one of hundreds that had done so as they made their way entirely around The Pentagon. It was on one hand a solemn procession and on the other hand, a show of joy. I will never forget one young soldier. He was sitting in a wheelchair with both legs and one arm missing, his left arm badly damaged. He had a big smile on his face, his body bobbing back and forth to the rhythm of the clapping.
The march wound its way completely around The Pentagon and ended in the dining room opposite the large food court. The wounded and their families sat down for a lunch with many Generals coming to talk to each. We were invited in and we set up a table covered in black Memorial HeroBracelets. We met some pretty amazing people including some of the Soldiers and Marines who were being honored. We noticed that the Secretary of Defense Panetta was there, taking time with each Service member. He eventually came by and stood for a moment, looking over the neatly lined up black Memorial HeroBracelets on the table. We thanked him for talking to each of the Veterans at the lunch and he answered quickly "I couldn't do my job without them."
As the luncheon ended, the wounded filed out and we offered them to take a bracelet. They looked over the names to see if any of the HeroBracelets were honoring a friend lost in combat. Many took bracelets with them.
We'd met several people from the Red Cross. As we got to talking, we learned they worked in the hospitals that cared for these men and women. As we talked, we learned of what they needed to support their recovery. Some interesting things came up. For instance, electric razors. So many of them are on blood thinners as they heal and a nick from a regular razor could be a problem. They also need iPads to read and communicate with their loved ones. There was quite a list and we're going to start working with them to get the word out about how we can all help.
The facts and figures of The Pentagon are pretty impressive. I don't have them all but apparently there are somewhere around 30,000 people working there. It's hard to imagine one building with that many people but it seems to work. And being there, you got the sense of purpose that is in every hallway. Everyone is taking their job seriously. Most are in uniform and I noticed it's probably the fittest group of people I'd ever seen. Everyone was in excellent shape. During my conversation with our gracious guide, I learned that everyone, from the Generals down, had to pass a physical. No excuses. You had to be in shape and ready to deploy on a moments notice. Our guide also told us that its the hardest working group of people she'd ever seen. Long hours and great work ethics are the norm. I was impressed. Very impressed. I was glad to have so many dedicated people working on my behalf.
Washington is full of monuments and hard working people. And The Pentagon is no different. I think we can all rest a little easier knowing the people who run and manage our defenses are taking their jobs very seriously.
And we should all give thanks to those who are in harms way. And to those with whom harm fin