Wow! If you have been on the trip in previous years, I imagine this summary will bring back your great memories. (An advantage since there’s not much to show when one returns home from this predominately “no cameras allowed” trip!) If you’ve not attended, I know that each member of our group would highly encourage taking advantage of the next opportunity!
Our group activity began on Tuesday, July 14, when we visited the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. We heard from the dedicated folks in the call center and those who deal with cyber investigations of exploitation. The case numbers seemed overwhelming and are on the rise. We also had the chance to speak with an artist who demonstrated the center’s age-progression work, including 3-D software that works to build an image of what the person would have looked like from the scan of a skull. We were shown closed cases of age-progression art compared to the actual person’s photo. The artists study the real-life comparisons for improving their skills, but they were already very good! The work of NCMEC struck us as pretty incredible. We left thankful for the brilliance of those seeking resolution of so many cases against children. We then explored a bit of Old Town Alexandria, where the center is located.
After leaving Old Town, the group spent the quietness of sunset at the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial. This was one of many times we recognized our group’s good fortune to be led by Kathy Hotakainen and Joan Froehle! Not only are they a delight, but having each worked for the FBI in D.C., they were firsthand founts of knowledge, experience and contacts as we traveled during the week. Unbeatable leadership!
At the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial at dusk, lights glow under the benches. Each bench honors an individual killed in the attack. They are arranged according to the victim’s age and whether they were in the Pentagon or on the hijacked flight.
Wednesday was our lucky day to visit the training facilities at Quantico! Kurt Crawford, FBI Public Affairs/Media Contact, was our energetic guide for the day. After viewing the library and seeing dorm areas, we were greeted by the Section Chief for the Instruction Section at the FBI Academy and then two supervisors from the New Agent And Analyst Training Unit (NAATU), and learned (from current instructors!) about the training for special agents and intelligence analysts (and that beginning in September they’ll train together). We lunched in the brand new cafeteria, then walked about to see equipment and facilities, including Hogan’s Alley, the famed town of the most-robbed bank in America. We headed to the lab and heard presentations, then visited specific forensic areas, viewing artifacts from historic cases.
Wednesday evening was a group dinner and a beautiful nighttime walk by the White House and as many of the memorials as we could see. (One member’s fitness device could hardly stop cheering for the new record in steps!) The weather was blessedly comfortable during our week, this evening breezy and almost fall-like!
Visiting FBI Headquarters, just a short walk from our hotel, was on Thursday’s agenda. A highlight for our small group had to be the greeting and Q & A time with Director Comey! Just back from Europe the night before, he leaned back against the wall, expressed his joys and hopes in leading the FBI, and appeared to have all the time and interest in the world for us. Main themes were “We’re the best in the world and we’re not good enough—always working for improvement” and the critical need for the various “3-letter agencies” to “work together seamlessly.” The director talked about the health of the public questioning government/agencies and the current dilemma of data privacy via encryption vs. warranted law enforcement intelligence gathering. He said he was meeting with the head of Apple in the next week to seek input and conversation toward possible solutions.
Some of us saw Director Comey picking up his lunch in the cafeteria. After “never enough time” in the FBI Education Center and viewing a firearms demonstration in a state-of-the-art theater area, we witnessed Director Comey welcoming a new group of employees just completing their Onboarding New Employees (ONE) program. Having the chance to listen to his eloquence once again was thrilling for us!
On Friday we had the chance to learn a bit more about the FBI’s work in preventing terrorism. We were, of course, impressed by the dedication and expertise of all those we met on that hot topic as well.
As you would guess, the time flew by. We were all keenly aware of our good fortune at being allowed to take a closer peek at the crucial work of the FBI. Visiting the “mother ship” reinforced the confidence, competence and compassion our Minneapolis Field Office shared in our Citizens Academy. Our appreciation goes to Kathy and Joan, of course, and to the Alumni Association and to all those who had a part in making this trip happen. Thank you!