The FBI Academy is contained within the very large Quantico Marine Base. To enter Quantico , you travel south from Washington DC and exit off of I-95. There’s almost an immediate change in atmosphere—from rushing, bustling, congested highway to a rural two lane road bounded by woods. There’s a guard post before entering the actual military base—the guard on duty the morning I arrived didn’t look old enough to drive and was very polite as he scrutinized my drivers’ license and gave me directions to the FBI Academy .
After driving several miles past open fields where Marines hold various exercises and farther into the woods, I arrived at a second guard post. These guys were much more intense and serious—checking my drivers’ license, calling the Supervisory Special Agent I was to meet, and eventually telling me that I had to pull over and wait. Even though my friend, the SSA, had faxed my paperwork and clearance info already, it wasn’t enough to get me through that gate.
I was escorted into the FBI’s police station (yes, they have their own police force). There I sat on the other side of a bullet proof window from a receptionist who was trying to help myself and a truck driver with a furniture delivery for the new DEA building. After filling out more forms, pledging that I wasn’t in league with enemies of the state, and several phone calls from the SSA, my paper work was cleared. But I still couldn’t pass the gate—the entire facility was now in lock down because of some suspicious white powder found on a loading dock.
The truck driver and I split a candy bar and continued to wait as HazMat fire trucks raced through the gate in one direction and finally returned in the other. All clear!
Jefferson Hall houses the New Agents in Training, their classrooms and faculty offices. The DEA used to live there as well, but now have their own building nearby. Jefferson looks like any other high rise college dorm built in the eighties—all yellow concrete and glass. A block of legos plopped down in the middle of trees and deer. Beside Jefferson is the driving range with its obstacle course, the indoor and outdoor firing ranges, and the HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) helipad and training area. Unfortunately it had begun to rain by the time I made it there, so none of these facilities were in use.
But, rain or shine, NAT’s still practice their skills in Hogan’s Alley, the town that hosts the most frequently robbed bank in the world. Hogan’s Alley also houses a deli that serves excellent, inexpensive sandwiches, soups and cookies; a photo studio where NAT’s get their ID badges made and which has full video capacities; several apartment buildings with steep steps to practice take-downs and room clearing techniques and of course the bank to simulate armed robberies and hostage situations.
Perhaps the best part of being at the Academy was the opportunity to sit in on classes with the NAT class. The new agents come from a variety of backgrounds ranging from Archeology to the Military to Quantum Physics. During class, they all shared an earnest, serious _expression but the instructors were quick to lighten the atmosphere. I spoke with the instructors afterward and they expressed the same philosophy as I often share when I teach medical students and residents: yes, this is serious work, but it is also hard work and if you don’t learn to lighten up when you have the chance, you’ll never be able to relax enough to learn everything you need to know. The instructors were excited by the chance they had to pass on their “tricks of the trade” to the next generation and seemed determined that none of their new agents would make any of the “rookie” mistakes they made while coming up through the ranks. The new agents were equally as excited by the opportunity to hear the “war stories” that the veterans shared as illustrative points.
It was a wonderful day and I am truly thankful to Supervisory Special Agent Charbot and her wonderful team for taking the time to give me an inside look at life at Quantico .