A Lesson in Service to Others

Visit to the Pentagon

Irulan Cockrum

Today, Officer Anthony Jackson gave us a tour of the Pentagon. His current position is Police Officer with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, Pentagon Police Directorate, Third Platoon. Before that, he has served as a sergeant in the US army. Throughout the tour, I felt great admiration and appreciation for his many fine character traits, such as humility, curiosity, compassion, and strong willpower. Officer Jackson went to great lengths to give us the best experience he could give us. Throughout the tour, I heard many comments about his dedication and service to his country and the American people, and I stayed by his side the entire time we walked. 

After bringing us into the building, he led us to a room where he introduced us to a panel of people from the Army, Air Force, and Marines that he had assembled for us. Because we were unaware that we were going to meet a panel of military personnel, we had no questions prepared for them. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we were all moved not only by their individual stories but also by their motivation and commitment to service. Although we had not prepared questions for them, we were eager to ask a number of questions, and it was obvious that we were all grateful for the opportunity to speak to them. 

I was especially moved to see women serving proudly in the military, and I was excited to talk to such strong women. In recent years, more women have come to hold positions of power that only men used to hold. Meeting these women helped me to imagine myself doing all the things I grew up watching only men do, and I felt very inspired. 

After the discussion, Officer Jackson showed us the headquarters for the Marine Corps and the new Space Force. Both areas included interesting displays on the walls depicting different aspects of each branch of service. There was information about important people and events, and there was even a display dedicated to science fiction movies related to space and the Space Force. 

The last part of the tour was the most personal part of the tour for him and the most emotional for us. Officer Anthony Jackson was training to be an army sergeant during the attacks on September 11, 2001. Although he was not in any of the cities where the attacks occurred, he was dispatched to do security clearance at the Pentagon to make sure no one could enter the perimeter while people were working at the site. We stood in the very spot where the Pentagon was hit, which is now an open corridor between two walls. One of the walls was rebuilt after the attack, and so it is a different color from the other wall, which was preserved and included scorch marks from the fire. You could see the emotion on his face as he talked about the attack, and he was incredibly vulnerable and respectful as he spoke about it. I had never shared such intense, raw, and vulnerable feelings with someone before. I deeply appreciate him, and I won’t forget what he shared with us.

Bella Padilla

Today we had a full and exciting day. We woke up early, got ourselves ready, and then rode the Metro to the Pentagon. It was unique and humbling to experience life as a DC local. This was only the second time I had taken the Metro in DC. When we arrived at the Pentagon, I was amazed at the number of government officials and the size of the Pentagon. 

The experience at the Pentagon was surreal. There were people in official uniforms everywhere, and there was intense security. After a brief orientation, our tour guide, Officer Anthony Jackson, led us to a room of panelists to interview. Along the way, he showed us various shops and services and dispensed interesting pieces of information. For example, we learned that there are seventeen miles of hallway in the Pentagon. We also viewed paintings of previous chiefs of staff. I was in awe of the history on display and amazed that our country and its government have stood the test of time. 

The panelists were all knowledgeable and informative. Each was from a different branch of the military. I found Officer O’Connor especially interesting as he spoke about his experience working with nuclear and other hazardous materials. After the interview, he told me about how he previously worked with nuclear power in Hong Kong and that in just a few weeks he’s going to Texas to conduct a simulation of a nuclear attack. This topic has always fascinated me, and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to talk to someone who works on it as a profession.

All the panelists gave great advice, and they all agreed that it’s okay not to know what you want to do in life at my age, as I still have plenty of time to find my calling. As a high school junior, I found this advice refreshing. I’m very grateful for the experience the Values in World Thought curriculum has given me. 

Ethan Lee

Today, our class toured the Pentagon with Officer Anthony Jackson. We viewed the Space Force wing and the Marines Corps wing, and we interviewed a panel of members from different branches of the military. The panel was the most interesting and engaging part of the day for me, as the members of the panel were all very well spoken and seemed like they really wanted to talk to us. My favorite panelist was Officer Josh Clemmons, who pilots “Little Bird” helicopters. He is an incredibly relatable person, appearing more “human” than I had previously imagined someone in the military to be. One thing he said that stuck with me was that the hardest lesson that he’s learned so far was the impact that a decision can make. He gave an example of sending a group of specialists on a mission and having them all return, and another time sending a different group on a mission and having only some of them return.

Before today, I had always thought of the government and the military as huge impersonal entities that functioned independently of the greater good, rather than a group of people who are just trying hard to make the best decisions that they can in service to others. Several of the panelists admitted that they really haven’t always known what they want to do with their lives and advised that someone my age doesn’t need to know yet what to do in life. I’ve been focused on becoming a firefighter for some time now, and I haven’t really been considering other options as much as I should have. They made me realize that although it’s nice for me to have a passion and a general idea of what I want to do, I should take every opportunity that I can to learn and experience something new, knowing that possibilities and opportunities aren’t always predictable.