by SARA MARSHALL//Editor-in-chief
In an uncertain world, brave men and women train every day to protect America’s borders from potential threats.
Jaron Sidwell, a 23 year old U. S. Border Patrol Agent Trainee, is one of these trainees who have gone through grueling training and real-life situations which tested his entire being.
“I will be completely honest; the first reason that kept me going was my wife and family,” Sidwell said. “I could not have lived with myself knowing that I let my family down because I quit. The second reason is this: How many people can say that they are a Federal Agent? Not many, because it’s not that we can and others can’t, it’s that we will and others won’t.”
Pulling on his prior experience, Sidwell made a big jump from one federal agency to another.
“When I was in college, I interned with the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives),” Sidwell said. “I then got a chance to talk to a former Border Patrol Agent and was hooked from there on. I have always loved the outdoors. I am a huge hunter and fisherman and as soon as I heard that the Border Patrol spends a lot of time outdoors I fell in love.”
Once Sidwell had made up his mind to join the Border Patrol, he started on the long road to becoming an agent.
“Going through the application process was nerve racking to say the least,” Sidwell said. “When you apply, you are always waiting for something so it definitely tests your patience.”
To begin the application process, Sidwell had to take a written entrance exam, which included a comprehensive Spanish exam within it to prove you are capable of learning the language. After passing this exam, there is an extensive background check and the first physical test.
“I had an oral panel interview 5 hours away from home and then the second physical fitness test was around that same location,” Sidwell said. “The thing that gets most people is the polygraph exam. I sat in a room for 9 hours being asked questions strapped to a chair. Needless to say, the application process is not enjoyable but it is definitely worth it in the end.”
Sidwell passed all his exams, which allowed him to continue to the U.S. Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico. For student who are close to graduation and wish to become involved in the Border Patrol, Sidwell suggests applying as soon as possible since the application process can take so long.
“Being a trainee is obviously not as good as being a regular agent but I love learning new things especially for my career,” Sidwell said. “Before I came here, I viewed life in a different aspect. Once you go through all of this, it changes you mentally and physically and definitely prepares you for life in the patrol.”
At the Federal Law Enforcement Center (FLETC), trainees have to go through courses which include Communications, Ethics and Conduct, Report Writing, Introduction to Computers, Fingerprinting, and Constitutional Law.
“Academics were definitely the hardest thing for me,” Sidwell said. “I have always struggled in academics no matter what it is. I had to study more than I ever have even for college exams.”
Trainees also participate in Physical Techniques (PT) five days a week throughout their time at the academy. PT isn’t just about physical fitness though, trainees are taught how to defend themselves It is every day, five days a week. According to Chief Patrol Agent Dan Harris, the training associated with PT is more than just physical fitness and conditioning. It also includes skills such as defensive tactics to keep you safe when attacked or when someone resists arrest, arrest techniques, handcuffing, post arrest searching, and safely securing someone who has just been arrested.
“Physical fitness here at the academy is no joke,” Sidwell said. “They push you to your limits because they want you to break and go home. The funny part about PT is that you hate your instructors when you first meet them and then once you graduate your PT instructors became your favorites and you really look up to them.”
Sidwell never really had a typical day at the Border Patrol Academy because trainees are always doing something different day-to-day.
“My day always started by getting breakfast,” Sidwell said. “But after breakfast we would go to either the shooting range or go to class for the first two hours depending on what day it was of the week. Then we would go to either scenarios or another classroom session.”
After that, Sidwell would go to lunch and after eating, he would have PT for two hours. After PT, Sidwell would go to some sort of law class, which would depend on how far he was into the course.
“For the first month, it was tough getting used to everything, especially PT right after lunch,” Sidwell said. “The hardest part about the day was staying awake for our last class of the day because PT would drain you mentally and physically.”
Once his daily actives were done for the day, Sidwell would go back to his room to study.
“This is no joke either, the academics are mentally challenging and if you do not study, you will not do well,” Sidwell said. “And you have to march in formation everywhere you go. That will get annoying but you would be surprised how well you come together as team. You will question yourself a lot every day on why they make you do certain things but you just have to keep pushing.”
According to Sidwell, the housing is not bad at all. The rooms are set up in dorm-like buildings with private bedrooms and bathrooms. Each room has a small TV and each trainee receives daily maid service.
“You get your bed made and room cleaned everyday while you are at work,” Sidwell said. “The shower is fairly small but other than that, it is nice to be able to go back and just relax by yourself sometimes. You just have to get used to it whether you like it or not because you have to call this place home for a while.”
Now that Sidwell’s training is coming to close, he can reflect fondly on his experiences at the Border Patrol Academy.
“My best moment was by far walking across the stage and seeing my family sitting in the crowd because I graduated from Basic Training at the Border Patrol Academy,” Sidwell said. “I also had my dad pin my badge, which was something I will never forget. That day goes by so fast but you will never forget that day because it is a huge accomplishment.”
Sidwell says an important part of being in the academy with so many other trainees for weeks on end is to bond with your classmates, because you never know when you will need to rely on them some day.
“You will get on a bus with people you have never met before in your life and then realize five months later that you would take a bullet for them any day,” Sidwell said. “That bond is huge and will go a long way. Even right now I have two weeks left in Spanish training and sometimes I feel like I hate my classmates, because I’ve been with them 24/7, seven days a week, for six months. Although, in the end you still come together, fight a long side of each other and will defend each other at all costs.”
[Photos by TOVI OYERVIDEZ/PLAINSMAN PRESS]