Last month my husband and I took 6 teenagers, his students, to Washington DC on a Leadership Fieldtrip for 6 days. Those 6 days were filled from morning until night with tours of historic sites, historic buildings, monuments, memorials, military sites, museums and a ton of walking. We were pretty worn out after that trip.
But it was so much fun!
And we learned a lot!
My husband and I had lived in Northern Virginia for 6 years and knew our way around so we were excited to take the kids to see our Nation’s Capital. Some of them had never been and some had been before but did not see all that we were planning.
The kids got to see and learn about the workings of all three branches of our government through our tours of the Whitehouse, Capital Building (where they also met their Representative), and the Supreme Court. These tours gave them insight into the way our government works and let them see for themselves what they had learned about in books in a classroom.
We took them to the monuments and memorials—for some of our Presidents, for our military and the wars fought and for historic figures who had great impact on our country. All of them moving, especially when toured at night. So many only see these sights in books or on tv….but to stand there in person, next to or inside these great monuments, well, the emotion overtakes you…..they really are a sight to behold, the inscribed words inspiring all those who have come after and those who are still to come….a reminder of our great country and those inspiring individuals.
We visited some of the Smithsonian museums, letting the kids explore and see what interested them.
We spent some time on an island in the middle of the hustle and bustle……an oasis that has long been one of my husband’s favorite places and a place that honors one of his heroes, Theodore Roosevelt. As we walked through the trees and down the paths, we could not help but relax and enjoy the time there together as a group.
We also stopped and toured our National Cathedral, a first for most of the kids and a first for my husband and I. And we also spent time inside the Library of Congress, one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington DC.
Midweek, after our tour of the Whitehouse, we went to the National Archives, where we saw the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, the original documents…..amazed to see the signatures of the very brave men who helped to establish our democracy and create our country. Our last day, before our flight, we visited Mt Vernon, home to our first president. These historic documents and the historic home of George Washington made the founding of our country, real. How wonderful it is that our country has kept so much of its history.
We saw a lot while in Washington DC. There was traffic and tour groups to deal with. There was great food to be had. There was shopping. There were protests witnessed, reminding us of the freedoms afforded Americans. There were also more security screenings than we have EVER experienced! And yes, there was LOTS of walking!
And then there were the military sites—a cemetery, a battlefield, museums, the Pentagon and war memorials….all honoring our military men and women. The military sites were among the first sites we visited, starting with the Air Force Memorial, standing tall on a hill above the Pentagon with an amazing view of Washington DC. We had arrived in DC at 7am after a long night of flying, stopped for breakfast and then headed out to see some sites before checking into our hotel. It was only fitting that our first stop should be at the Air Force Memorial…..after all, these kids are part of the Air Force JROTC at their high school.
We then attempted to stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial, but it was closed for refurbishment and could only be viewed as we drove past it….so we instead went to the Pentagon 9-11 Memorial. The kids were all babies when the horrific events of that morning in 2011 happened, so they only knew it through the stories told to them…….unlike most of us, who remember it all, every moment of that morning and the days that followed. We solemnly walked around the memorial, stopping to read the names of those lost on the plane that morning and those lost inside the Pentagon. This was a sobering memorial, bringing to reality all those lost that day. The kids, as part of their AFJROTC group, participate every year in a 9/11 Flag Raising Ceremony and now they were seeing for themselves, why they do it, why they honor and remember those many lives.
Over the next few days we visited more military sites and memorials—The war memorials on the National Mall to those who fought and died in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and Manassas Battlefield, the site of the first major battle in a war that almost tore our country apart. We took the kids on a tour of the Pentagon, where they learned about all branches of our military. And we visited both Smithsonian Air and Space museums.
Our visit to Arlington National Cemetery was quite moving. We walked, rather than taking the shuttle, to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We walked so that we could see the graves, read some of the names on those white headstones and honor those who have protected our country. Heroes, all of them buried here in our Nation’s Military Cemetery. And then we watched the changing of the Guard at the tomb of the unknowns. The kids all stood for the ceremony, watching as the Changing of the Guard occurred…..honoring the unknown soldiers buried there, the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, including their identity. Words are hard to come by to adequately describe the Changing of the Guard, the reverence these Sentinels show for those entombed here. A solemn ceremony. And the kids watched. They absorbed it all…..the meaning, the honor, the sacrifice. And for the kids who themselves are part of the AFJROTC Honor Guard, this ceremony held even more meaning, showing them the highest honor for any Honor Guard member. Arlington was a very emotional, solemn place.
Our last stop on our first day before we checked into our hotel was at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. We were all pretty tired by the time we arrived here, but once we stepped inside our energy renewed and we were ready to tour the museum and learn about our Marine Corps. When we first entered the museum we noticed chairs set up for some kind of ceremony, one we assumed had already occurred. We headed further into the museum, enjoying the history of the Marine Corps from inception to current day. The kids enjoyed the interactive exhibits. The museum was a wonderful way to honor our Marine Corps. We came to the end of the exhibits and wandered back into the main atrium, ready to head into the gift shop, when we noticed the ceremony was beginning…the chairs were filled with those there to celebrate the Commissioning Ceremony for a Navy Sailor. And we stopped for a minute, noticing that the Honor Guard was preparing to present the colors. We watched as the Honor Guard moved to the front of the ceremony and presented the colors and then the National Anthem began…..and we all stood, facing the flag with our hands over our hearts. This was our flag, our anthem and our military. And then I noticed we were not the only ones. Everyone there in the museum stopped walking, stopped talking, stopped moving and hands over their hearts they, too, faced our flag and honored this Sailor and our country. There was only honor and respect being shown. Here in the middle of a museum strangers stopped and paid tribute to our country and our military….young and old…..male and female….all races……for a moment we were all a part of this young man’s ceremony, a part of a military tradition.
I was moved to tears.
And the kids were moved by the respect shown here on this afternoon.
Our trip to DC was filled with many opportunities to learn and to see firsthand the greatness of our Country…..how our government works, the history of our government, the honor of military service, the freedom we all have to express our opinions, and how inspiring and impactful one individual can be in making things better for others.
This was a GREAT trip for many reasons, but especially because of how meaningful it all was!