As Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost tells it, there is “no difference between female agents, male agents — we’re all Border Patrol agents.”
Provost, the agency’s first female head, sat down with Women Rule to discuss her history-making career, the Border Patrol’s vast gender gap, and why it matters to have more women in their ranks.
Journalist Amanda Ripley interviewed Provost at her Washington, D.C., office this fall.
The full transcript is below.
Ripley: I guess I want to start with a little history.
Ripley: So, you’ve served in the Border Patrol for 22 years, working your way up the ranks, doing just about every job that can be done, from patrolling the southwest border, to teaching agents how to do bike patrol, and handle firearms at the academy, and investigating corruption within the agency. Which part of your career do you look back on with the most fondness?
Provost: Oh, I would definitely say my 11 and a half years I spent in Douglas, which is where I started my career. That’s where I did bike patrol. I was a firearms instructor, I taught post-academy with the new trainees that came in. Just the dynamic of working with the men and women there, I arrived in 1995—
Ripley: This is Arizona.
Provost: In Arizona—Douglas, Arizona, and it really kind of blew up at that time, that area. It got very, very busy. We went from a—when my class graduated the academy and arrived, about a 40-man station, to over the little over 10 years, 11 years that I was there, to over a 500-man station, as well as numerous detailers coming in throughout the years to support efforts.
I watched border infrastructure go up, technology go into place, watched the Border Patrol grow; just really a dynamic time to be in the Border Patrol. And I have to admit, probably my favorite time, still to this day, was working on the bike patrol unit. I was an agent for two years, and then I supervised the unit for a little over a year, as well.
Ripley: What did you like about bike patrol?
Provost: Just the camaraderie; the small team tactics. Interesting dynamic when you get small groups of people together, working together. And having to deal with the personalities, but really a good teamwork effort.
Ripley: You’ve, over the years—this is not a complete list. You’ve been stoned by drug smugglers, chased in cars, kicked by angry detainees. Is the adrenaline—not to minimize; these are serious things. Is the adrenaline part of the appeal?
Provost: You know, that’s hard to say. It’s certainly—I was drawn to law enforcement, I think, in probably my teen years and as I know you know, I was a police officer before joining the Border Patrol.
Ripley: In Kansas.
Provost: In Kansas, yes. It was just something that I wouldn’t say that that’s it. It’s the wanting to serve, wanting to do something that’s great for the country. I was just raised that way. And the excitement that comes from knowing that you’re doing something to help protect the country.
Ripley: Did you have military in your family? Or what was the—
Provost: No, not really, I didn’t. And I didn’t have law enforcement, but I grew up in a really small town in Kansas, and just that—a lot of military—a lot of folks that maybe had the experience. It was a farming community for the most part, but I believe that just kind of Independence Day, the national spirit really thrived in the community, and the pride in being an American, and what we stand for and wanting to help support this great nation, I think.
Ripley: A year ago, you were promoted to deputy chief of the Border Patrol, and the headline then was that you were the first woman to be deputy chief. Then, this year you were promoted, again, to acting chief, and again the headline was: first woman to have this role. So, you broke two records in six months, but I get the sense it’s not the number one way you see yourself, as the first woman blank. You’ve said, “I never saw myself as a female agent.” What do you mean by that?
Provost: It was—what I mean is I see myself as a Border Patrol agent. And no difference between female agents, male agents; we’re all Border Patrol agents, and that was something I’ve always, I guess, aspired to throughout my career, but I really—I don’t think I thought about it too much coming up through the Border Patrol. I mean, when I joined the Border Patrol, of course, a male-dominated profession. But the key in the Border Patrol is if you go out, you do a good job, then you’re recognized for it, whether you’re male or female.
And that’s been my experience in the Border Patrol. Now, on the same note, if you’re not a hard worker, that gets recognized, as well, so really just going out and wanting to be the best agent that I could be, and for the majority of my career, at least, my experience has been I’ve been treated like everybody else.
Ripley: So, there’s almost something diminishing by making it—instead of the first blank, you’re the first female blank. I can’t relate to that, of course, but I know when I was a kid, I played with a few other girls on all-boys travel soccer team, because there was no girl option at the time. And at the end of the season, the coach gave out awards to different players, and there was best at headers, best at slide tackling, and then for all the girls, three of us, he gave us best at playing with the boys. And there was something—I don’t know, you just wanted to be good …read more
Read more here: The reluctant pioneer: Border Patrol’s first female chief