The mission was simple; we had a warrant to arrest a woman on child pornography charges. Other than having some rough men in and out of her life over the years, the subject had never been in trouble before, but that was no longer the case. There was plenty of evidence — of the worst kind — for her arrest, and our only objective today was to pick her from the West Mobile trailer park where she lived and bring her in.
We knew it was the middle trailer, more of an RV really, in a small park of three. She was described as a medium build white woman around 5’6” in height, with long black hair, which she some times wore pulled up. We were not sure if she would be alone when we came knocking or would go with us without incident. But we were ready — as ready as you can ever be for something like this I guess.
Our team of five arrived at the park, and identified the trailer in question. Our team leader gave us our assignments. One would knock on the door and another would cover the knocker. Two more would cover the front of the trailer and one would cover the back.
I was given the final assignment, and made my way to the back of the trailer, with my Glock drawn. At least I think it was a Glock.
I heard the knock. Bang. Bang. Bang. “FBI, we have a warrant for your arrest.”
The door flew open. The suspect was there, but obviously she was not alone. I could hear my fellow agents shouting, “Get Down!” and “Drop your weapon!” I couldn’t tell what was going on just yet, but obviously this arrest wasn’t going to be a cake walk.
Some days are better than others.
I quickly made my way down the west end of the trailer. I peeked around and assessed the situation. The suspect was there alright, but an unknown white male had taken her hostage and was holding a gun to her temple and was threatening to shoot. He was facing east; his back turned to me. He was not responding to the team’s demands to let her go and to drop his weapon. I had a clear shot. My heart was racing as fast as my mind. A million different potential outcomes played out in my head in an instant. But the situation was not getting better, and it was time for action. So I took the shot, hitting the subject in his left shoulder, leaving a green splat on his black jacket.
My name is Special Agent Ashley Trice… at least on Nov. 23, 2013 it was, as I completed the Mobile office of the FBI’s Citizen Academy. On our final day, we got to run the mock training sessions above, see a bunch of stuff get blown up, a SWAT team raid a house and even the opportunity to shoot a Thompson machine gun mobster style.
Over the course of the six week program, we learned about the history and the changing roles of the Bureau, had a briefing on each of the areas they cover, including anti-terrorism, cyber-crimes, drug and human trafficking, public corruption, dealing with radical fringe groups, among many other things.
We even got to see a classmate get polygraphed and learned how it’s almost impossible to trick the machine. Well, unless you are a sociopath. We also learned some keys to detecting deception. I’ll let you in on one of the tricks of the trade, but I don’t want to spill all my secrets.
For example, if someone uses “bridge phrases” they are probably hiding something from you. So the next time you are interrogating your teenage son and he says something like, “I was just driving down the road and ‘the next thing I knew’ I rear-ended the guy.” By using the phrase “the next thing I knew,” we know Junior needs to brought in for further questioning because he is hiding something. It’s a dead giveaway every time.
For whatever reason, I have always been enamored with the Hollywood version of the FBI and CIA. I literally spent 24 hours watching the first season of “24” (Obviously, this was before I had children. Now, I’m lucky to be able to make it through one episode of “Homeland” before someone wants milk). But in “24,” Special Agent Jack Bauer with the Counter Terrorism Unit, diffused weapon of mass destruction after weapon of mass destruction, all in 24 hours and all while his whiney daughter and wife gave him crap for never being around enough for them. Gosh, give him a break, ladies. He just endured being tortured by the Chinese government, for Heaven’s sake.
Of course, that’s Hollywood. I’m sure our agents at the Mobile office aren’t preventing the entire Port City from being blown off the face of the planet or every citizen being given some sort of horrendous disease through biological warfare every second of every day, but they are quietly and heroically working to protect us from the bad guys.
And sometimes it does get as dramatic as a Hollywood flick.
You know the kid who was rescued from the bunker in Midland City, after being abducted from his school bus last February? Be proud, Mobilians. That was our FBI office that rescued kindergartener Ethan Gilman and returned him safely to his mother.
For those of us who aren’t around kidnappers, child pornographers, human traffickers, crazy folks who are trying to declare themselves as sovereign nations or folks who are trying to blow us or the world up, we don’t often think about that element, nor do we think about the people who are trying to protect us from it.
But we should.
One agent, who had been assigned to Juarez, Mexico, showed us a photo of three human heads that had been delivered to their office by one of the ringleaders of a drug cartel. Can you imagine? The only thing I have to worry about being delivered to our office are our three bottles of water for our cooler.
As Special Agent in Charge Stephen Richardson told us several times, “We don’t do this to get rich, we do it because it’s a calling.”
Our class was delayed for three weeks when the government was shut down. Even though, they didn’t know if they would get paid for the time, the agents still showed up every day to continue their work, because it is so much more than a paycheck to them.
I’ll admit I felt like a Grade A badass after taking out the bad guy in our little trailer park scenario.
Move over Jack Bauer.
Although I might have failed to mention, I almost got “killed” in one of the next scenarios we practiced because I didn’t get back behind cover quickly enough. Thankfully, one of my team members “saved” me.
Oh and I also accidentally discharged my Glock (paint) gun in between simulations. I think it was a Glock, but either way, I like saying Glock. Pretty sure I would have been kicked out of real FBI school for that.
If this had been real life, I would have been wetting my pants and crying, and we would have all been dead.
But I am now more thankful than ever there are brave men and women who don’t wet themselves in these situations and who are the true Grade-A badasses who run to the danger, not away from it.
Thanks to all the agents in the Mobile FBI office for making this truly an unforgettable experience. For more information on how you can attend an upcoming Citizens Academy, check out mobile.fbi.gov.