Touring the Pentagon—the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense—is not your typical tourist activity. For one thing, you are met at each entrance door by an armed guard, which is a little disconcerting. And you can’t wander away to talk photos or peek into unauthorized areas, unless you want to spend a much longer time in a different type of secured government facility.
Just the Facts
That said, taking the 60-minute escorted tour is a great way to learn more about the mission of the five Armed Services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff. And while you definitely won’t leave with any national secrets, you will be left with a lot of information, and a staggering amount of statistics.
The world’s largest low-rise office building, the Pentagon contains nearly 17.5 miles of corridors in its seven floors, though it only takes seven minutes to travel between two opposing points because of its unique design. Five floors are above ground, and two are below ground, and you can get around using the building’s 19 escalators and 131 stairways. (If you need a break, there are 284 bathrooms within the building, and 691 water fountains.)
One of the facts that I found most interesting was that there are 17 food vendors within the building, including the world’s busiest Subway restaurant, which serves 6,500 foot-long sandwiches every day. I guess this makes sense; after seeing how much security we had to go through just to get in the building, I can’t imagine anyone is able to just order up a pizza delivery.
Approximately 23,000 people work in the Pentagon, which at more than 6 million square feet, is basically a small city; it even has six zip codes. What’s amazing is that this $49 million building, which broke ground in 1941, was completed in just 18 months—it turns out the government can move quickly when it wants to.
Of course, there have been changes made to the Pentagon, most notably the repairs that have taken place since the building was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. If you look carefully outside the building, you can see a slight difference in color where one of the limestone walls was rebuilt after the plane crashed into it; the fact that renovations were taking place in that section of the building at the time of the crash saved a lot of lives. According to our tour guide, employees had been moved out of that area of the building while it was under construction; had the plane hit any other part of the building, it is estimated that 3,000 to 6,000 people would have died, compared to the 184 who lost their lives that day.
The tour does include a visit to the 9/11 Memorial inside the building, and there is also a National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial outside the building that not only honors the victims who perished in the building, but those who were on the hijacked plane. Benches facing the sky pay tribute to the plane’s victims; benches facing the Pentagon are in memory of those who died inside.
The tour is, not surprisingly, quite regimented, (you will walk exactly 1.49 miles) and groups are accompanied at all times while in the building. Photography is also not allowed, and no electronics, including cellphones, are permitted to be used. In order to take the tour, you have to book it between 14 and 90 days in advance, and you must show up at least an hour ahead of time to get through security protocols. Tours take place M-F from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Friday from noon to 4 p.m. There are no weekend tours.
To book a tour, visit their site.
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