Pentagon Staffers Bring Kids to Work for Fun, Learning

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2008 - As the children of Defense Department employees arrived in throngs for National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, they transformed the normally serene Pentagon courtyard into a veritable circus, replete with clowns, animals, and arts and crafts.

And, as sometimes happens at a circus, a little boy overwhelmed by the festivities wandered away from his father.

One of the main attractions today in the balmy five-sided park was Alma, a German shepherd trained to sniff explosives for the Pentagon's police department. Alma's handler, Officer Sean McDonnell, stood by with leash in hand as children swarmed his canine comrade.

"They ask me, 'What kind of dog is she?' 'What does she do?' 'What is she trained for?'" said McDonnell, listing questions he fields from young inquisitors.

But breaking the mold of typical questions was one young boy -- about 7 years old -- who approached McDonnell with a quivering lip and a worried look in his eyes that said, "I'm lost. Can you help me find my parent?"

McDonnell reassured the youngster as the boy staved off tears. After all, the child had chosen the safest park in the world to get lost, and now he was in good hands. The officer stowed Alma in his air-conditioned cruiser and set off with the lost boy in search of his missing soldier dad.

Attaching himself to the search party was 12-year-old Denzel, who had been petting Alma when the 7-year-old arrived. Denzel -- decked out in a Boston Celtics basketball jersey and with the swagger of a grown-up seventh grader -- now fixed his attention to the search-and-reunite mission.

"Is that him?" Denzel asked, pointing at each man in digital Army camouflage who shared the missing boy's dark complexion. "What about him over there?"

McDonnell, Denzel and the lost lad walked past a kiosk where kids were making foam toys, across the grass where a father and son tossed a ball, along a concrete slab where parents and children snacked on benches and soaked up sunrays.

The three continued in the direction of arts and crafts exhibits, scanning the hundreds of parents and kids creating sand art, T-shirts and other trinkets. After about five minutes, the young boy's eye met with his father's. The boy raced across the pavement and leapt into his dad's outstretched arms.

Meanwhile, 3-year-old Alex Kosinski was another child whose attention was captured by the 2-year-old German shepherd. Alex and his sister, Samantha -- who turns 2 next week -- accompanied their father, Leonard Kosinski, to his job at the Pentagon today.

Kosinski, the Japan country director for the strategic plans and policy division of the Joint Staff, hoped the children's visit would be educational.

"They always ask, you know, 'Where do you work? What do you do?" he said. "So it's a chance for them to come in, and I try to explain not just what I do, but what we all do here at the Pentagon -- it's important."

National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is a national public education program created by the Ms. Foundation in 1993. It began as Take Our Daughters to Work Day and evolved into its present format in 2003.

Sponsoring today's event was Connect and Join, which provides communication services to military families, and the Defense Department's America Supports You program. America Supports You highlights citizen support for armed forces members at home and abroad.

Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison -- the architect of America Supports You -- commemorated the fourth annual festival with a volley of praise for the day's participants. She highlighted Quilts for Warriors, an organization on hand at the event that supplies wounded troops with quilts made by American volunteers.

Addressing children in the audience, Barber said, "The most important people in this courtyard are your moms and dads who work here at the Department of Defense."

One parent handing out T-shirts at a kiosk was Army Sgt. Daniel Reed, who recently returned from serving in Afghanistan with 82nd Airborne Division. Joining Reed today was his wife, Kathleen, and daughters, Mary and Molly, ages 12 and 5, who also helped staff the exhibits.

"What it does is kind of gives them a chance to come and see what mom and dad do at work," said Reed, describing the value children take away from their visit. He added that volunteers at the event also gain from the experience.

"Everybody that works at the Pentagon here actually supports all of the military services, and all of these organizations are giving back. We're just trying to do the same," he said. "They need to do more things like this more often."

Pentagon Staffers Bring Kids to Work for Fun, Learning [ ]