I kept my FBI credentials (stamped RETIRED in bold red letters) in my backpack and handed over my driver’s license, as did the forty-plus members of the Philadelphia Citizens Academy (CA) I was with. They checked each of our names against the pre-verified list of attendees. Because he hadn’t received advanced clearance, they denied the motor coach operator entry and escorted him off the campus as soon as he dropped us off in front of the impressive reception area. Security was tight.
The campus map provided a quick update on how much the academy grounds had expanded since I went through new agent’s training so many, many years ago. I had been back to Quantico twice before, in 2006 and 2007, but prior to recent renovations. So when I heard that the Philadelphia Division was sponsoring a trip to the FBI Academy for the CA Alumni, I asked if I could tag along. Thanks, Tanya!
When our group entered the main building (actually several buildings connected by “gerbil-trail-like” hallways), we were introduced to our tour guide, Community Outreach Specialist Josh, tasked with keeping us on schedule. Unfortunately, but understandably, we didn’t get to view the renovated dormitory rooms. Josh told us the rooms are still two suites with two double beds connected with a shared bathroom for four same-sex roommates. National Academy attendees live in one of the high-rise annexes and new agents in the other. I took a photo of the beautifully manicured courtyard between the two buildings. We didn’t have time to see the classrooms, or the expanded and redesigned auditorium and Hall of Honor reception area. It was a tight schedule. Maybe next time.
When we passed through a hallway near the main gun vault with firearms displays on the walls, I found several familiar names listed among the Possible Club (elite marksmanship) members. Bill Vanderpool, Max Noel, James Gagliano, and Mike Harrigan have all been guests on FBI Retired Case File Review. Outside across from the firearms ranges, we watched FBI new agent trainees (NATs) and DEA recruits shoot. The FBI trainees wear blue polos and tan colored tactical pants, while DEA trainees wear all black. The DEA Justice Training Center is also located on the FBI Academy campus. The agency uses the FBI’s ranges and dining hall. With hundreds of live rounds being fired within earshot, we didn’t hang around the range for long.
We next toured the Track & Field House. Passing by the entrance to the “yellow brick road” running course, I made sure to take a photo of the tree made famous during Clarice Starling’s opening scene in the Silence of the Lambs. I was surprised when Josh informed us that trainees no longer take their running test on Hoover Road, but now use the track outside the fitness center. He also told us that NATs still engage in boxing and martial arts training with male and female opponents. I remember how much fun that was (joking).
Our next stop was Hogan’s Alley, a mock small town with shops (including a real Subway where employees can buy sandwiches), a motel, theater, and the most-robbed bank in America. This is where NATs apply what they’re learning in the classroom. Actors from nearby Fredericksburg, VA are hired to play the roles of victims, bad guys, and innocent bystanders during practical scenarios designed to measure trainee’s progress, and arrest and interview skills.
After lunch in the newly renovated dining hall and a stop at the FBI store for CA members to purchase shopping bags stuffed with the FBI paraphernalia and trinkets (I picked up a few things for future giveaways), we were bused over to the FBI world-renown FBI Laboratory. I was thrilled to be greeted by my former Philadelphia office mate, Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Richard Marks, who gave a fascinating presentation on forensics and evidence collection (He’s not yet retired, but I need to get him on the podcast). Attending the trip was a nostalgic walk down memory lane.