Military and Police

U.S. Border Patrol Academy Shaping our Nation’s Gatekeepers

With our nation’s ongoing immigration woes and the postured debate between pro- and anti-immigration stances, we nevertheless need more Customs and Border Patrol agents —a lot more— to secure our beloved country’s perimeter. Gatekeepers of our nation are indeed a special lot and prove that at law enforcement training facilities.

In the Personal Growth blog I subscribe to I found the following short piece (writer is unidentified): “We have a tendency to allow ourselves to get pulled in different directions. To get involved in too many activities and causes. But we’re more effective when we focus. Especially when we focus on our strengths, and use whatever unique leverage or resources we have available to us.” Those are the characteristics of viable police candidates who are galvanized by training academy instructors who were once in those newbie boots.

I can tell you with certainty based on personal experience that a law enforcement academy molds police recruits into tip-top shape (homogenizing physically fitness according to high standards) and keeps both body and mind as sharp as a can be. The physicality is exhausting because of unrelenting drill instructors who have only success in their sights. Although a minority of cadets either forfeit their role or do not meet muster and wash out, the majority of academy recruits possess fierce devotion and admirable stamina to see it through.

In the following video you will see the dynamics endured by police cadets all across America. This particular one is compliments of Sydney Hernandez of CBS 4 News, reporting from Artesia, New Mexico where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security maintains an academy relegated for training its newest Border Patrol agents:

The only two things I extrapolated from the Border Patrol training curriculum that I was never exposed to at my police academy training are learning Spanish as a second language and operating an emergency vehicle over railroad ties (to simulate often-rugged terrain Border Patrol agents drive upon, aka the middle of nowhere). My agency didn’t mandate second-language skills but, like other departments, basically incentivized such an acquisition through tuition reimbursement. College degrees generally require a second language component among a student’s degree-seeking credits, a win-win after all.

Spanish would serve Border Patrol agents little at our U.S.-Canada border, but come in thoroughly handy at our perimeter shared with Mexico. Both the Spanish language mandate and driving over clunky ground makes sense for those assigned along the southern border region. For those agents up north where it is quite cold, well, you have a second language to boast.

What the video above exhibits is generally what every police academy in the United States implements. The physical rigors are astounding when you are immersed and prodded in it daily; the results are well worth it for many reasons. It is not just about professional appearance —that is important— but more so targeted to get and stay in top physical condition. The bad guys will more readily scope out what they perceive as a weak link—an officer whose physical stature is that of a cheeseburger-eating champion who moves like a sloth dosed with barbiturates.

While in the police academy many years ago, I was at my most optimal physical condition. I saw it. I felt it. I lived it with profound confidence. My children implored my abilities, and that was the cherry on my cake. Then, I confess, many consecutive years on midnight-shift became a part of me: it showed up around my core. My duty belt rang the bell—the seeming snugness alerted me. I knew better and didn’t promptly answer the call to exercise. Fatigue became my norm (valid excuse).

Although sloths are interesting, I didn’t want to morph into one. I got it together. Me and some of my squad-mates engaged in an off-days ritual of racquetball, a high-intensity physical activity which also hones hand/eye coordination by keeping your focus on the swift-moving and ricocheting tiny ball. I always found that most relevant to police work and being around the dangers posed by bad-ass people. “Watch the hands. The hands can kill you!” is repeated ad nauseum at every police academy in America. It is thoroughly engrained, as it ought to be.

In Florida, state police academies (of which there are several based on the agency for which you are hired) encompass seven months of grueling physical training and concentrated academics (ample legal instruction, naturally) and the duration requires residing on the barracks owned by the state. As Ms. Hernandez reported, the Border Patrol academy runs a full six months and also mandates living in the academy dorms until training in the middle of nowhere is concluded. Upon graduation, agents boast fourteen certifications besides the most important one, the distinct one which officially regards them as federal agents entrusted with the range of authority and arrest powers executable with national jurisdiction. Border Patrol agents are not necessarily going to be conducting traffic enforcement in Anytown, USA, but they can if the situation presented.

Tip-top cop is the name of the game.

“You don’t need to be great at everything. Just be great at your thing. Let others be great at what they do,” the Personal Growth blog suggested. To me, that means an all-encompassing spectrum of techniques and tactics which comprise a stellar law enforcement officer chronically implementing situational awareness in all contexts, without fail. Anything else which may be factored into any given call for service is a bonus offered to those we serve.

As the federal government, namely Homeland Security, scours the crop of viable candidates to fill the many thousands of available Customs and Border Protection slots, batch after batch of Border Patrol agents are prepped, conditioned, and graduated for official swearing-in ceremonies whereupon they get to pin that proverbially hard-earned badge representing honor, integrity, and service.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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