I’ve written some things in the past that portray the negative aspects of being a contractor and moving from implementation to implementation without working for a company helping you advance down a career path. Well, one advantage to being a contractor is that it affords you the opportunity to see and visit many sites.
I consult, so I get to move around a little. Most of my clients happen to be local, but I visit different spots throughout the Washington, DC area. Recently, I’ve been in the Arlington area and have gotten to visit a few memorials that are fairly new and I hadn’t gotten to visit before.
The Air Force Memorial
When the Air Force Memorial was dedicated in 2006, I wasn’t planning on going out of my way to visit. I thought it was just one more memorial among thousands. In addition, I had grown up as a Navy brat, so the Air Force was my “least” appreciated arm of the military. After all, their front-line combat personnel are pilots. I was taught that real pilots joined the Navy as it takes special nerve to land a jet on a short air strip pad in the middle of the ocean that moves, bounces in waves, and provides little margin for error. Landing on steady ground is for civilians.
Still, I had time to kill before a meeting about a month ago, so I stopped by to check it out. If you haven’t seen it, it is a small plaza with three large swooping arcs flying high in to the sky. It is pretty and invokes flight to some degree, but I wasn’t moved by anything there until I got to one statement engraved in granite that made me think.
Soldiers can go back to the ground that they fought on years ago. Sailors can visit ships on which they served. Pilots cannot return to the skies through which they fought. There are few monuments to air battles because there is no one location where they took place. All pilots have is their memories. That made be look around again and give a little more respect to the need for this particular memorial.
The Pentagon Memorial
The spot I visited today needs very little introduction. Dedicated one week ago, the Pentagon Memorial remembers the 184 victims that died in the attack on September 11, 2001. It is a nice place filled with a bench for each victim and trees scattered throughout. In a decade or so, it will be quite lovely when the maples have matured and spread their limbs.
The benches are organized in lines, with each line representing the year that the victims were born. As you enter, you cross the first line for 2001. Each bench rises out of the ground in a graceful curve on one end with the other end hovering over water (lighted at night). Each bench has a name inscribed on the elevated end and if you read the name and see the Pentagon, they were inside when the plane hit. If you see sky, they were in American Airlines Flight 77.
The disturbing aspect to the arrangement of benches is that is strongly highlights the children that died. There were five children on the flight, ages 3 to 11. The youngest was Dana Falkenberg who was traveling with her older sister and parents. After those five benches, there is a large gap, representing 11 years, with no benches or trees. It just drives home the tragedy of that day.
As I drafted this section of the entry, I was sitting in the 1941 row on the bench of Col. Ronald F. Golinski, US Army, Retired. I picked the bench somewhat at random. It had some shade that made it more comfortable. It is also at the far end from the entrance, so it is more peaceful there. There was a dull roar of cars driving by and the occasional airliner passing overhead (a little creepy given the event being memorialized), but once the trees and surrounding plants grow in, those sounds will seem further away.
When I visited, it was the middle of the day on a Thursday and their were a fair number of visitors. I expect the number will decrease slightly in the years ahead on work days like today. It is only a 10 minute walk from the Pentagon metro stop (best way to get there) and I can see myself returning in the future to just sit, relax and reflect when I am in the area.
The day of the attack, I was supposed to be at the Pentagon for a client meeting, but I had gotten out of attending the day before. While I wouldn’t have been physically hurt had I been at the meeting, the emotional stress to myself and my family is something that I am grateful, and lucky, to have missed. It was a rough enough day as it was. Sitting there makes me reflect a little about the forces that guide our lives.
Get Out There!
So take time out to see the sights. As I walk around DC, I try to stop and look at some of the markers, just to get a better feel for the heritage of the city, and of my country. I’m lucky in that aspect. Washington is loaded with monuments and memorials, so there is always something I haven’t seen.
So get out there! Plan a little extra time in your day when you go somewhere new to see what is all around you. It is one of the perks for the long hours that you have to invest in this career that you have to grab yourself.
You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.