Had you told me two summers ago that traveling with the FBI to Washington DC was in my future, I wouldn’t have believed you. At that point, I had randomly run across an application for our local county’s Sheriff Citizen Academy and didn’t even know an FBI Citizen Academy existed.
But now the week is over and I can say I’ve been to the mothership – and it was pretty cool. Unfortunately for you, I wasn’t allowed to take hardly any pictures. I guess you’ll mostly just have to take my word for it.
Everyone kept asking, “What are you going to DO in Quantico?” and I really didn’t have an answer. I replied, “It’s classified.” Ha. So here’s how it all went down:
1. We boarded a bus in DC and drove the 45 minutes to Quantico, where we spent a lot of time waiting while they checked our names on the list. I took this photo from the bus, and probably wasn’t supposed to (shhhh!).
2. We were greeted by a super friendly and knowledgeable guy who led us along the firing range and some of the more tactical training areas. We saw helicopters, trucks of all sizes, dune buggies, snowcats, backhoes, you name it. It was kind of like going down a toy aisle for grown-ups boys. I think he said they fire 1,000,000 rounds a year. Or was it a week? Who can remember?
3. We walked through a full enclosed warehouse where agents train for more strategic ventures, complete with a fully suspended airplane cabin and multiple concrete rooms set up like a maze. While walking along a 2nd story grate, I watched two guys wrestling below. One got pinned while the other yelled, “I’m gonna shit down your neck!” Then they both laughed.
4. After a long, hot outdoor tour, we went inside for several presentations about how agents get recruited and apply, as well as their training during their 20 weeks at Quantico. We also heard a lot about the curriculum they receive in academic classes. Basically, it’s really freaking rigorous. And then they get maced in the face and have to fight. No whiners here!
5. For lunch we ate in the
glamorous dining hall and then got a tour of the FBI laboratory, with a chance to see their library of 7300 different kinds of guns (some pretty old and some pretty famous), as well as an up close and personal bomb tech presentation. Again, it was like a boys’ toy aisle, but for real.
6. We wrapped up our tour with a walk down Hogan’s Alley – a completely fake little town (where a surveillance happened to be taking place), and then a trip to the FBI employee store.
All in all, it was a very full day – and it really connected all of the pieces I have learned about the FBI over the last year and a half into one big puzzle.
BUT WAIT – THERE’S MORE!
We also visited the FBI Headquarters in downtown DC (although I have zero photos of that experience). While the building itself was pretty boring (the tour guide described it “white walls, blue suits”), we still had some pretty interesting presentations from agents on their international capabilities, efforts against child exploitation, and then a firing range demonstration.
The best part was getting to wander two floors of their own FBI museum (no longer open to the public for security reasons) chocked full of artifacts from every major FBI case you can name. I saw weapons, clothing, and letters from famous gangsters like John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson; a scale model of the Unabomber’s cabin, along with his meticulous journal; a bunch of Bernie Madoff’s personalized gear, including a survival kit – just to name a few. We also saw fun Hollywood memorabilia like Hannibal Lecter’s face mask and X-Files ID badges. There was so much that it was impossible to see it all.
The thing is that you can’t just go to Quantico and say, “Hey – I’d like a tour.” Based on how serious they were about just escorting us to the bathroom, well…I’m just saying don’t try it. Before any of this whole FBI Citizen Academy stuff started, I knew shows like Criminal Minds aren’t at all realistic (in fact, one guy at Quantico literally used the word “ridiculous”), but at the same time I really had no real knowledge of the history, their organizational structure, or what the people who work for the FBI are really like. Today, I can say with confidence that the FBI is a very organized and procedural organization that takes the safety of it’s agents and US citizens incredibly serious. They may bust down doors, but not haphazardly or without careful planning. From speaking with all of the agents, it’s not just a job – it’s a proud lifestyle, and if you’re not ready for that, then you aren’t meant for the FBI.
As we were leaving Quantico, Thor and I were talking and he mentioned that it seemed like the exact place and career where I would have fit in. But alas, I’ve chosen a different calling, and I’m ok with that. The question still remains, though, where do I go with next with all that I’ve learned?