Image Map

Secrets of the Pentagon (woooOOOOooo!) (<-- Ghost Voice)

Jul 19, 2012

Since today is my final day working in the Pentagon, I thought I should share some secrets with you from my 4 1/2 years of working here. Don't expect me to tell you anything that's actually important, but if you are anything like me (a clueless, non-athletic girlie girl) and end up working in this giant building with hoards of intimidating, muscly (usually) men and super fit, awesome (always) women, you might find this post useful.

Hi! My name is Mary El and I'll be your Pentagon tour guide today.

Fun Facts: 
  • Construction on the Pentagon began on September 11, 1941 -- 60 years to the day that it was attacked by terrorists. Creepy, right?
  • If you chopped off the Empire State Building at its base (let's not) and laid it across the top of the Pentagon, it would not reach from end to end.
  • Roughly 23,000 people work in the Pentagon (make that 22,999 come next Monday), so it's set up like a little town. It has its own post office, dry cleaner, barbershop, nail salon, shoe repair (grumpy but does a great job), gym (try not to get distracted by all the hot, muscly men), clinic, CVS, florist, Best Buy, Adidas store and even a DMV (never a line), not to mention lots of dining options (including three Subways and two Starbucks).
  • The Pentagon was designed so you could get between any two points in seven minutes or less. The massive building -- supposedly the largest low-rise office building in the world -- has five floors above ground and two below, and it's around 17.5 miles if you walked every hallway.  
Really Fun Facts: 
  • You may hear of the "mythical" purple water fountain. It totally exists! Dazzle your coworkers by taking them there. It's in the 8th corridor, mezzanine level. When you walk out of the glass doors, you'll notice a wall painted purple with a water fountain mounted on it -- that's where the purple water fountain used to stand. Turn to the left and wind around the hallway to the right, and you'll come upon it. 
(I once got lost looking for it, and I asked a man to help me. I was too busy trying to impress my friend who was with me to notice the two stars on his flight suit. He happily obliged us and I felt like a complete idiot once I realized who I was talking to.)
  • The 9th corridor, 2nd floor houses the Pentagon correspondents from major news agencies. Their offices are narrow and long, and when it's time for them to go on camera they simply push back from their desk and turn on the camera mounted above their computer. The wall behind them is painted, so what you see on TV is actually what is in their office. I especially love running into CNN's Barbara Starr (power woman) and Chris Lawrence (soooo cute).
  • There is a bar in the Pentagon. Known by a couple of names, the "Bomber Bar" or "Fighter Mafia" is exclusively open to Air Force pilots, honored guests and hot girls (read: if you are a female and at least try, you are hot). It's somewhere on the mezzanine level around the 7th corridor, and it's open on Fridays after 5 p.m. (aka "1700"). Look for the palm tree, knock on the door across from it, and tell them Fish sent you. (I'm not promising you that will work, but it's worth a shot.) If it's your first time you will be required to take a shot of Jeremiah Weed, the preferred drink of fighter pilots. You'll probably get a migraine afterwards, but it's a small price to pay to say you've been there.
  • If you're giving a tour to someone, make sure to visit the Women's Exhibit on the 1st floor between corridors 6 and 7 on the E Ring. It showcases women's uniforms from the Revolutionary War to today, and some of them are really cute. I especially like the wool cape from the 1950s. 
Also, the Air Force has the best artwork -- go to the 5th floor, E Ring in corridors 9 and 10 to see it. 
  • There is one custodian who will freak you out, but he's harmless. He is Asian and will mumble scary sounding words to you if you engage with him. After your first encounter, you'll know who I'm talking about. You'll want to say "Good morning!" if you're a decent person, but trust me, just avoid any interaction and move on. The rest of the custodians are awesome, amazing, lovely people. Get to know them all by name.
  • Before you check out a guy, check out his left hand. The tour guides are especially cute, but under those white gloves are a slew of wedding rings.
  • If you have to cry (by all means DO NOT do it in front of anybody, especially someone superior to you), there's a room in a hallway in the 4th corridor, 1st floor, D Ring near the Pentagon chapel called the "Navy Reflection Room." It's a memorial to those who died on 9/11, and it's a perfect cover-up for you. People rarely go in there, and if someone does and sees you sitting there quietly crying, they'll leave you alone. I know that sounds horrible, but it can be a lifesaver.
  • Stock up on pens at conventions. The pens provided for your use, known by the brand "Skillcraft," are made by blind people. Thank you, U.S. Government, for employing blind people...but these pens are terrible. Every time I use one I think of this scene from "30 Rock":

  • When someone leaves your office for another job, take whatever good stuff you can find from their desk. Due to budgetary constraints, those pink Post-Its you want could be wait listed for months. If you work for the Army, blue folders are a hot commodity. Stash in a hiding place and reuse until they are literally falling apart. 
  • Get outside as often as possible. Most offices lack windows, and -- especially if you're a woman -- your body will miss the Vitamin D.
  • When in doubt, address anyone and everyone as "Sir" or "Ma'am." It made me feel like a kid at first, but it's a pretty great trick when you forget someone's name.
  • 8:30 a.m. (0830) is considered late. Mass Pentagon exodus begins at 3 p.m. (1500). 
  • Make friends with the police officers -- you might need a favor (or protection from a crazy person) one day.

  • If you're a peon, you are allowed to park on the premises (i.e. the parking lots waaaaaaaaay on the outskirts) five times a month. Metro is your best option. If you need to park, go to the parking office next to the Hall of Heroes and Pentagon Federal Credit Union (or "PenFedCredU," as I like to call it) and have your tag number handy. Get your pass the day before if possible. You will get booted if you don't. And I will never forget my correct tag number again.
  • The hamburgers in the center courtyard aren't half bad, and they have the best french fries in the building.
  • Facebook is a privilege. It will slow down your computer and crash your Internet Explorer, but be happy you have access to it. (Call your help desk and have them set you up with Firefox, it tends to handle outside websites better.)
 Lessons Learned:
  • Flirting with the tour guides is only fun as long as they don't ask you out. When they (he) do (did), of course you'll say yes because pickins are slim and they're (he's) hot, but later you may find out they (he) have (has) a girlfriend (let's hope she's not his wife) and you'll feel like a piece of poo. Besides that, a smile and hair flip here and there never hurt anyone (except that one time one of them got distracted and ran into a pole -- sorry!!!)
  • When you are in a heated conversation with a man, try your best to maintain the level of your voice. The higher pitched your voice gets, the less he will hear. Lord help you if you end up in one of these conversations with a woman.
  • Keep a black blazer at your desk. You never know when you'll get called into a meeting and need to spruce yourself up real quick.
  • High heels, good hair and a bright smile go a long way.
  • If you keep chocolate covered espresso beans on your desk, your coworkers will forgive just about any offense.
  • Make sure you can walk comfortably -- or at least be able to fake it -- in your shoes. A 7-minute walk is a long way in shoes that hurt your feet.
  • You will oft see girls in flip flops in the summertime and Uggs in the wintertime. You will be tempted to follow suit. Try to resist -- the servicemembers in uniform think you look ridiculous. (If you must wear either of these, change immediately when you get to your desk.)
  • Pay attention to the traffic laws when you do drive in. The cops will pounce on you if you even think about disobeying signs.
  • Don't burn bridges with anyone unless he or she is a criminally despicable person. It's all about who you know, and sometimes who your contacts know. Build up a tough skin fast, and try not to take things personally. It's just business.
  • Playing dirty only works if you're a non-criminally despicable person. These people will be on top often, and often you will feel incompetent standing next to them. Remember that you are not incompetent because -- guess what? -- you work in the Pentagon. Don't get caught up in the game. Instead, smile and say hello to these people every chance you get, and focus on being awesome at your job.
Although it can be an intense place, there are tons of perks that go along with working at the Pentagon. Some days you may find yourself chillin' in the cockpit of Air Force 2...

...or hangin' out with a Medal of Honor recipient...

...or briefing the top ranking general in the Army.

You may get invited to the White House, eat cupcakes shot out of an Abrams tank or gain hoards of new followers on your blog when you write about a non-committal humanitarian who looks really cute in his uniform.

Above all (no, that is not a jab at the epic Air Force #fail of 2008), your time spent at the Pentagon will be one of the greatest honors of your life. Even on your worst day, remember that your work is contributing to our nation's defense and the mightiest military on earth.


  1. I can't believe you didn't mention all the places to get a nooner. But overall, great rundown (DS)

  2. This is a great post, but for someone who worked the Pentagon, you should the POLICE OFFICERS there are not security guards and should never be referred to as such.

    Did you know there was a line of duty death of one officer a few years ago? He was doing his job.

    They aren't bored - they are actually pretty busy backing up Arlington County Police as well.
    These officers are the ones you should get to know versus janitorial staff.

    Just give them some respect.

  3. This post makes me so happy -- all the tricks of the trade in one place! I'll have to add on to this list once my Pgon tenure is over :) And let's not forget what certain phrases mean ...

    "let's go for a walk"
    "Did I hear a 59 minute rule, sir?"
    "Are we still having that sync meeting... ugh, we are"


  4. @Anonymous (2) Are they all police officers? I was never sure about that. I'll change it in my post though -- thanks for pointing that out! And while I'm sure they're not bored all the time, I'm pretty sure they were during my run-in with them a few years back (check the link).

  5. Hi!! My friend just got his next set of orders and will be heading to the Pentagon this spring. He was googling a bit I guess about life in the pentagon and stumbled onto your blog. He immediately sent it to me and was like, oh my gosh Meghan, this girl is you!

    I've read through a number of your old posts and I love it! Just wanted to let you know what a great thing you have here!

    And PS, I work in Navy supply up in Philadelphia so I know about the Skillcraft (or whatever they are called...) pens. Needless to say I stock up at hotels whenever I go on TDY.

  6. Thanks Meg! I hope your friend found this post useful, haha. :) And even though I have access to nice pens now, I still find myself hoarding the free ones whenever I get the chance!

  7. Lol I left the pentagon on June 1st 2012, after 2 years as a tour guide... This post was hilarious, I just googled "pentagon tours" and this came up, trying to show some friends what I used to do... I should write one from a tour guides view.... The worst was Every military person looking at you like wtf is this low ranking guy doing in the Pentagon? And trust me, it was difficult to give a tour while walking backwards and constantly being distracted by those gorgeous women in the 4th corridor, E ring area lol... Anyways, good overview of the daily life, and good tips for any future "pentagon prisoners".

  8. @R Tapani: Thanks for reading, and hope it was helpful! I would lurv to get a tour guide's point of view. Email me if you're interested!

  9. You say "If you have to cry (by all means DO NOT do it in front of anybody, especially someone superior to you)" but why not?

  10. @L Boyatzi, in my experience it's never a good idea to cry at work, but in the Pentagon you have to be especially careful to not give anyone the impression you are sensitive or can't handle the job.

  11. LOVED your blog about the Pentagon! Thank you so much for sharing - it was really refreshing to read a down-to-earth perspective. Last time I was at the Pentagon I searched for the purple fountain and just chalked it up as myth - THANK YOU for finding it! :-)

  12. Great blog, Mary. Did you have to serve in the military first to become a tour guide? Is it required?......Anybody? The answer would be greatly appreciated. (doing research for a short storyl)

  13. I knew there had to be a bar in there, there has to be one more at least.