FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. AMAZING!
From the moment we pulled into the USMC checkpoint to enter the Quantico Marine Base, the whole bus was abuzz. "Look, real Marines!" the kids shouted as they saw the men in camo gear patrolling the checkpoint. The bus wound through a forest spotted with tan buildings sporting USMC logo signs. My chest puffed with pride every time I saw that yellow and red anchor logo, a symbol of my two Marine grandpas. We even passed a huge outdoor shooting range: a lush field with rolling bunkers and trenches leading to the targets at the other end, presumably so the Marines can practice shooting while crawling and hiding. However, even that was nothing compared to what awaited us on the other side of the 2nd checkpoint: the FBI Academy.
A white SUV emblazoned with "FBI Police" met us at the checkpoint and escorted us to the main building. "Wow, the FBI has their own police?" I thought. Even that was cool! I started getting shivers of "I can't believe I'm here!" as we turned past signs that said "FBI Training Academy". S's dad boarded the bus in his FBI agent garb, along with our tour guide for the morning: a retired Marine who now does administrative work for the Academy. We drove past the new FBI Laboratory, where they can now process DNA results in 24 hours. Then, one of the biggest treats of the day: Hogan's Alley.
Hogan's Alley is a fake town used for cadet training simulations, complete with a fake bank, hotel, drugstore, movie theater, restaurants, barber shop, laundromat, pawn shop... and anything else you'd want in a town! Our guide joked that the bank is "the most-robbed bank in America" -- it gets robbed about every day! The Academy pays regular people to pretend to be the "bad guys" who commit robberies, murders, etc. throughout the "town". The FBI Academy cadets then swoop in (with training guns that shoot special paintball strong enough to break your skin!) to deal with the situation and arrest the "criminals" in the best way they can. As we walked through the town, we could see small groups of cadets entering various buildings, and our guide said they were getting briefed on crimes that they would then have to solve.
When we rounded one block, we could see a "bad guy" hanging out in front of a storefront: sweats, just loitering there. Something was about to happen! We sat down on the sidewalk, and within a few minutes, he stole a lady's purse! She screamed, the cadets came tearing around the corner firing their guns, and he ran into a house. It only lasted a minute but everyone was mesmerized! Our guide explained that this particular situation was an evaluation where the cadets would get a pass/fail grade, since they were in about week 16 of their 21-week training.
Although I could've stayed there all day just to see what simulations would pop up, we had to continue the rest of our tour. We were treated to a tour of the main academy building, including the dorm buildings, classroom buildings, indoor shooting range, workout facilities, and a courtyard with a moving 9/11 memorial. Then we got to eat lunch in the academy cafeteria with the real cadets! We learned that you can tell apart the FBI cadets and National Academy (law enforcement enrichment) students by their uniforms, and that they always wear a gun (either real or training).
After lunch came the most special part of our already amazing day: a private tour of the top-secret Hostage Rescue Team compound, given by the HRT commander himself. This is never included in the (rare) tours the FBI gives: we were only there because S's dad is very good friends with the commander! With his well-defined chest muscles outlined through his camo sweatsuit (with padded elbows and knees), the commander briefed us on the history of the HRT and then led us toward the indoor shooting range. We walked by boxes of live bullets and flashbangs as we looked at the maze-like walls of the range, which were riddled with bullet holes. When we came out, several HRT members happened to be shooting at the outdoor range, and we watched from behind the green line -- just 10 feet or so away! Finally, we went to the helicopter hanger, where we learned about two of the HRT's Bell helicopters and got to sit inside them! A pilot explained to us how the agents use drop ropes like fireman's poles to descend from the helicopters at 90 feet, something they had just practiced earlier that day!
While I'm certainly not brave enough to be an FBI agent, I didn't want that day to end. It was such an incredible experience to get a behind-the-scenes look at the men and women who do so much to keep us safe. I have a much deeper admiration for them and other special forces after seeing what they go through just to become agents!