Intense training prepares future agents for border protection

by SARA MARSHALL//Editor-in-Chief

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In light of recent local and worldwide political events, Americans are growing increasingly concerned with protecting the nation’s borders from terrorists and illegal immigrants.

Every day, brave men and women come from all walks of life to attend the U.S. Border Patrol Academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center [FLETC] in Artesia, New Mexico. The training center was purchased by the Federal government in 1989, after the Artesia Christian College closed its doors.

Soon after, they created the Office of Artesia Operations, which is one of three FLETC residential training sites in the United States. The 3,620-acre site houses many facilities which allow the United States Border Patrol to conduct basic and advanced law enforcement training.

“The Border Patrol Mission is to detect and prevent terrorists and terrorist’s weapons from entering the U.S., as well as preventing the illegal trafficking of people and contraband,” said Jennie A. Marquez, assistant chief patrol agent. “This mission is inherently dangerous, because the violators are taking a great risk in accomplishing their illicit goal, and, at times, violence is the result.”

Potential trainees go through months of waiting and extensive background checks before they are approved to go through several months of physical and mental agent training. Once through the academy, the trainees who are still there will graduate and receive their agent badges.

“The length and makeup of Border Patrol Academy training has varied quite a bit over the past 10 to 15 years, and continues to evolve as the law enforcement environment evolves,” said Paul Clayton, senior border patrol agent. “When I was at the academy in the early 2000’s, it was roughly 20 consecutive weeks of training where all the basic disciplines were taught together.”

In Artesia, experienced instructors teach aspiring agents new skills such as Firearms, Pursuit Driving, Physical Fitness, Police and Border Patrol Operations, Spanish, Law and other real-world techniques.

By teaching trainees in a controlled environment, instructors can ensure the next generation of agents will be better prepared for what lies ahead.

“Each instructor has their own twist when teaching,” Sergeant Major Frank Ayala said. “We have a wide range of instructors here, teaching many different techniques. An officer’s safety is our number one concern here.”

From their very first day at the academy, trainees are issued a fake sidearm to acclimate to the feeling of a weapon that will constantly be at their side. But they are not trained to ‘shoot first, ask questions later,’ as many may believe.

“The Border Patrol ensures that agents are properly trained to confront and diffuse these situations in a successful law enforcement conclusion, but sometimes, bad things happen,” Marquez said. “That is why we honor our fallen agents. They knew the danger in defending our country and laid down their lives to protect the homeland.”

Like many agents before her, Marquez heard about the U.S. Border Patrol through a career fair hosted by her college. She joined the U.S. Border Patrol 23 years ago at a career fair held at Michigan State University.

“I had never heard of the Border Patrol before then, and I met some wonderful recruiters who opened my eyes to a new career path,” Marquez said. “Many people, men and women, do not know or understand what the Border Patrol’s mission is. This job isn’t for everyone. But if you love the outdoors and have a strong desire to work in law enforcement, this is a great career to pursue.”

Once trainees become U.S. Border Patrol agents, they have the possibility of being chosen for a variety of assignments, including patrolling international land borders and coastal waters to prevent the illegal trafficking of people, narcotics and contraband into the United States.

If a new agent is assigned to the border, he or she can expect to be responding to alarms in remote areas, detecting, preventing and apprehending undocumented aliens, smugglers of aliens and illegal narcotics at or near the land borders. Agents also could be assigned to work with the K-9 Unit, which uses canines to detect concealed humans and narcotics, Search and Rescue unit, and patrolling.

“We expect a lot of an agent,” Clayton said.  “We expect them to be able to handle potentially volatile situations, very often without any backup, professionally, efficiently, and safely. I believe those who are willing to put themselves at potential risk to enforce the laws are answering a higher call.”

Being a Border Patrol Agent, especially in a small border town, has become a major part of Clayton’s everyday life.

“Everyone knows what you do, no matter how hard we try to keep it confidential,” Clayton said. “Even though we talk about what we do “off duty,” a law enforcement officer is never really “off duty.” You are trained to look at your environment, your world, even your life, from a different perspective, 24/7.  Some might say that makes you paranoid, but I would say it makes you more conscious of your surroundings or your situation.”

The Federal Government ensures all agents are well taken care of for all the dangerous work, long hours and stress spent being a Border Patrol Agent. The base pay for an agent starting out in the U.S. Border Patrol can be more than $40,000, depending on the position. Agents also receive competitive pay, paid time off, health insurance, life insurance and a generous retirement.

“The Border Patrol fills an important mission in the defense of the United States,” Clayton said. “Our brothers and sisters in the military typically fight for our freedoms far away from home, in foreign countries and lands.  The Border Patrol looks to attain those same objectives; defending and upholding the Constitution, from which we derive our most basic freedoms.  But we do so on our own soil.”

A rewrite of the academy’s curriculum was just completed this past summer. Beginning in May, all new trainees will attend a 117-day academy, where all the training is combined again. New field tactical training has been added to the curriculum, as well as a redesigned Spanish learning program that is similar to entry-level college Spanish, but with a focus on Border Patrol specific vocabulary.

With these changes, the Academy can better prepare future generations of U.S. Border Patrol trainees and agents alike.

“I have been blessed with many opportunities to do different things all over the country,” Marquez said. “When my time comes to retire, I know I will do so with a sense of pride and accomplishment, knowing that the future generation of Border Patrol agents is going to continue the mission of protecting our country.”

[Photo by TOVI OYERVIDEZ/PLAINSMAN PRESS]

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