I actually have about the same background and I live in the Washington, DC area as well. In addition, I graduated from college in 2008 and I am now planning to return to school for a Masters in Architecture in Fall 2013. I have one main concern. I am now thinking about changing jobs from the defense industry to a clerical or low level job in architecture to get some general experience. Would you advise doing this? I noted that you recommended attending seminars, lectures and other events, however, you dissuaded the previous poster from pursuing work in architecture right now at entry level. Can you provide a more detailed reason for this? Thanks.
If you are currently employed, I would NOT support your changing positions to gain an entry level position with a firm. First, you could probably better use your skills best with your current position. Working in an architecture firm does not help you. Instead, try to set-up an information interview with an architect or tour a firm. Plus, your salary is better with your current position -- you can use the monies.
Finally, the job market in architecture is very tough right now. It may be quite difficult to secure a position within a firm even entry level.
Yes, I think you should learn about working in a firm given you wish to become an architect, but you do not need to "work" in a firm to do that.