Pentagon's smallest fish get hooked on military careers

Airman Lotoya Barnaby helps Dr. (Capt.) Chuck Davis perform a root canal on a patient at the Pentagon dental clinic. Dentistry is something the 19-year-old hopes to pursue as a career.

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 12, 2004

Ya gotta start somewhere.

So says Seaman Austin Harnden, who got a huge kick out of learning why he had piqued a reporter’s interest.

“That’s why I’m here? I’m the lowest ranking sailor at the Pentagon? Wow. Good thing I don’t have ego riding on it,” Harnden jested during a recent interview.

And here he thought it was because he can walk backward for 1.5 miles, reciting the building’s 61-year history.

“Well, everyone has to start somewhere,” said the 21-year-old sailor who, along with three others, is among the most junior enlisted servicemembers assigned to the Pentagon — the figurative small fish in the big, powerful pond, the nerve center that is — the Department of Defense.

There’s the Marine admin clerk, an Army cook, a Navy tour guide and an Air Force dental assistant, each proudly representing his or her respective service, and the lowest ranking.

Walking the walk

It’s a far cry from what he really wants to do when he grows up, Harnden joked.

“I want to be a linguist for the SEALs,” he said of the Navy’s special operation forces. “I just have the aptitude to learn languages.”

Of interest: Mandarin, Chinese and Arabic — but he’s flexible. “They give you what they want you to learn.”

He inherited from his mom both the knack for languages — she can speak Latin, French, German and Italian — and the passion to see the world. He’s lived in North Carolina, California, New Jersey, Louisiana and now Virginia. Traveling is in his blood.

For one year, he’s content to be seeing, over and over and over again, the inside of the Pentagon as he winds tourist groups through 1.5 of the 17.5 miles of Pentagon corridors.

“I’m not trying to sugarcoat this, but there are so many people, so many stories and so much you can learn from being here,” he said.

From beans to bombs

The Pentagon, especially as a first tour in one’s military career, is not such a bad gig after all, says 19-year-old Pfc. Jacob Else, an Army cook.

“It’s a great duty station,” he said. “You’re around people who have so much talent up here.”

He’s good at what he does and enjoys the art of cooking. (Though he refuses to do it for his ever-persistent young friends who long for his fine culinary touch.)

“I cook all day and don’t wanna when I get home at night,” home being the barracks.

But it might not be the whole of his Army career, the ambitious young man said.

“Demolition and explosions,” he said. “That’s the other side of the spectrum. That’s something else I’m interested in.”

For now, he enjoys serving up meals to the military’s top leaders — and relishing in knowing that one particular service secretary likes tuna salad on a croissant, while another is a beef-and-potatoes kinda guy. (He doesn’t spill the beans.)

Throughout boot camp, his drill instructor kept telling the chef he was Korea-bound for his first stint in the Army.

“I’d do it and would love to go overseas,” he said. “But I couldn’t pass this up. I mean, it’s the Pentagon.”

Service with a smile

Airman Lotoya Barnaby, 19, is unfazed by working at the five-sided puzzle palace, as it’s sometimes called.

Teeth are teeth.

“The job is exactly the same here or any other clinic,” said the dental technician who fell — quite literally — for the world of dentistry when, at age 12, she tripped and chipped a front tooth.

The drawback to being anywhere else is that she wouldn’t work with Navy Dr. (Capt.) Chuck Davis, who has taken to calling her “Hurricane,” based “loosely,” he says, on the life of famed boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and his struggle to overcome harsh adversities in life.

The nickname stuck after she told him of growing up in a single-parent home in the Bronx, joining the military because she had no money for college, and because she works longer hours than necessary in order to catch a bus from work to the barracks. She has no car of her own.

“I love him and he’s taught me so much,” Barnaby said of her mentor.

So why the Air Force?

“I didn’t want no crappy job, and in the military you can’t go wrong,” she said.

No, sir. N-O.

In his first week on the job, Marine Pfc. Darrell Tucker learned the two-letters “n-o” might be the scariest he has to utter.

“How do I tell a general ‘no’?” Tucker asked his tutor.

“Respectfully,” Cpl. Jonathan Brogdon answered. “That’s your job.”

And so, as administrative clerk in Policy, Plans and Operations for the Marine Corps, Tucker learns the ins and outs of filing, data processing and building a thick skin as he pursues a career to be a lawyer.

“The Pentagon is my first duty station and I knew it was going to be real hard, but also a great experience. … When I get to someplace else, it’ll make me look even better,” he said.

“I always wanted a job in the military and as I got older, I remembered the Marines were better and I wanted to be part of the best.

“But this is crazy. I’ve never seen so many officers. And some make their own coffee.”

Cpl. Jonathan Brogdon, 23, leans over Pfc. Darrell Tucker, 18, to teach him some of the computer programs the younger Marine will need to do his job as an administrative clerk for the deputy commandant of Policy, Plans and Operations at the Pentagon.