By Jim Garamone, AFPSAugust 21, 2008
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is the most obvious symbol of the world's most powerful military. The building is the home of the National Military Command Center. And soon it will be a tourist destination.
While there are already tours of the building, the Pentagon will become a major destination for visitors to Washington after the dedication of the Pentagon September 11th Memorial next month. Officials expect between 45,000 and 60,000 people to visit the site Sept. 11, with up to 2 million people visiting the site in a year.
The Pentagon Force Protection Agency must ensure the important work in the building continues undisturbed, but they also must ensure the American people's ability to visit the site.
"The Pentagon reservation is a unique place, and the fact that we're going to have a tourist attraction here has been a challenge for us," said Steven E. Calvery, the director of the agency. "The Pentagon reservation is not like the (National) Mall in Washington, where it's designed for visitors. We're just not designed that way."
The memorial will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It commemorates the 184 people who were killed when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the building.
Calvery said the easiest way for people to visit the memorial is to take mass transit. "We are the major transportation hub in Northern Virginia; we have the busiest Metro stop, the largest bus station," he said in an interview. "People can get here pretty easily."
Folks taking the Metro or a bus to the Pentagon can take a short walk to the memorial. Signs are going up to direct people to the site.
Driving is another story. "There really is no accommodation for parking here," Calvery said. "Parking around the building is at a premium. We have made accommodation for handicapped parking, but there won't be any general public parking."
Tour buses will offload people at the site and Tourmobile will have a stop at the memorial. National Park Service personnel shared some of their expertise with the officers of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, and Park Service personnel came up with the estimate of tourists who might stop to visit the nation's first 9-11 memorial.
"Because of what the memorial represents and the solemn nature of the memorial, we're going to try and maintain a very low-key presence," Calvery said. "We will have two security booths on either end of the fence, and guards will be in the booths. They will have an unobstructed view of the memorial. We will have a roving patrol inside the memorial, and there will be technological security devices."
Photography is prohibited on the Pentagon reservation, but visitors will be able to photograph the memorial. "We will still reserve the right, if we see some suspicious activity, to take actions," Calvery said.
The agency will make security changes as needed. "We will see what happens as the process matures, and we will adjust accordingly if we need to," Calvery said.