As promised, here is the second installment of the three part interview I recently held with an FBI Special Agent named Connie. If you haven't read the first installment, or viewed the movie I recently posted about the FBI's academy, then you might want to check out those posts as well. The third and final installment of the interview will be published in the near future.
David: So Connie, you clearly wanted to become a law-enforcement officer and it must have been quite an exciting moment when you were notified that you had been accepted on the force. What was that like?
Connie: I received a letter in the mail - it was a “conditional letter of acceptance”. After getting that letter, I still had to complete all the requirements and graduate from the academy
David: In researching Dark Harvest, I read a lot about the ‘the academy’. What was it like to show up on that campus? It must have really been exciting.
Connie: It was exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. I had to move to the other side of the country, away from everything and everyone I knew, but I also knew that I was embarking on a tremendous adventure
David: That adventure must have included meeting a lot of new people who had very different backgrounds from you. How big was the class, and how many of them were women?
Connie: If I remember correctly, there were 33 people in the class. Our class had an unusually high number of women – I think that there were 7.
David: What kind of people made up your class? What kind of backgrounds did they have?
Connie: The background of my classmates was wildly varied. Our class had former law enforcement officers, an Army Ranger, a former Marine, linguists, cyber specialists, a lawyer, and a doctor. I had never met someone who had been in Special Ops before, so meeting the Army Ranger was quite intriguing for me.
David: I guess we probably can’t get into specifics, but clearly an Army Ranger isn’t someone you want angry with you. In the sequel to Dark Harvest (more about that in the near future!) the Army Rangers get to show off some of their ‘talents’. In researching what kind of training the Rangers go through, I realized why they are so tough. I’m prepared to wager significant amounts of money that I wouldn’t have made it through Ranger boot camp. Anyway, can you tell us what the campus was like? Were you billeted on site? What was the daily routine like and how was the food?
Connie: Yes, the Rangers are a special breed. As for the campus, we lived in dormitories and were assigned a roommate. We ate each meal in a cafeteria; I didn’t find the food terribly tasty, but I am a bit of a picky eater. Each week, we were given a schedule that contained a list of our classes, and times for firearms training, defensive tactics, and practical exercises. My favorite time of the week was spent in our firearms training.
David: Had you ever fired a weapon before your FBI training? What made that experience so fascinating - why was it your favorite class?
Connie: I had not shot a gun before going to the academy. The academy, however, has world-class instructors who can teach anyone how to shoot. No matter what your experience level is, they start by teaching many weeks of gun safety. Gun safety is drilled again, and again, and again. After many, many weeks, they eventually advance you to live firing. Agents-in-training are expected to master firing handguns as well as various types of rifles. There are specific qualification courses that agents must qualify on and if they don't pass the qualification course, then they are sent to join the class behind them, and don’t graduate with their original class.
David: Makes sense. A field agent would definitely need to know how to use a firearm. What other kinds of classes did you attend?
Connie: Not sure how much detail I can go into here…..
David: Sounds interesting, but I don’t want to put you into an uncomfortable position. So, let’s move on to my next question. Were there any surprises about what you were required to learn?
Connie: Not really any surprises, but it certainly was like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. There was so much to take in in so little time.
David: Sounds really intense – I really didn’t know there would be so many different courses and so much to learn. What was the toughest part of the training?
Connie: I think it really depends on your background. For example, passing the firearms qualifications wasn’t difficult for folks with Special Ops background! But this was the toughest part of the training for me – yet I loved it! Learning to shoot was not something that came to me naturally, and I really had to work at it. But since it was difficult for me, it was extremely rewarding to see myself improve, become proficient, and pass the qualification testing
David: That makes me think of Hogan’s Alley. For those reading this who are familiar with the original “Men In Black” movie, there is this famous scene where the Will Smith character has to go through a kind of ‘shooting gallery’ and has to shoot the ‘bad guys’ while not harming the innocent ones – of course the movie really switches up who the good guys were. But you had to train on a real location like this, didn’t you?
Connie: Yes, and as you said, it’s called Hogan’s Alley. I remember being quite excited to go and do our first practical exercise. We were assigned teams for each exercise, but you received feedback as a team and individual. The instructors also rotated the role of being the team leader, so that you got used to taking on that extra level of responsibility. I have a very clear memory of being shot in the hand (with a paintball round) by a role player. It definitely hurt, but that was a good thing – because I had made a tactical mistake. I knew that I wouldn’t make that mistake in real life!
David: So, you worked in teams. Comradery – esprit de corps. Did you make any long-lasting friendships during your training? Did any of your classmates end up where you went when you received your first assignment?
Connie: The bonds that are formed during the time spent at the academy truly stand the test of time. You endure physical, psychological, and emotional testing at the academy, and your classmates are your family and support system. Since I was posted to a large field office, I did have several of my classmates with me. We continued to support each other through our probationary period and were always there for each other.
David: Do you have any advice for people who would like to join the FBI?
Connie: I think it is the most amazing job that anyone could ever have. It is, however, very demanding. It's likely a good idea to do as much research as you can about the job before applying to make sure it’s a good fit for you
David: Thanks so much Connie. The next set of questions have to do with what life was like once you were working on the force, the kinds of situations you had to face on a daily basis – what unusual things were thrown at you… that kind of thing. I’m sure there will be many interesting stories to share!