Chief, U.S. Border Patrol Carla Provost looks out over an area where the primary border barrier replacement will be placed near Imperial Beach, California. Left to right: Watch Commander Spencer Hatch, Acting Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Kathleen Scudder, Chief Carla Provost, Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott. Photo by Border Patrol Agent Derrick Woodford
Carla L. Provost doesn’t do easy.
Not then. Not now.
Provost, the first female head of the United States Border Patrol, assumed command in the midst of intense media scrutiny regarding its national security role, which not only includes the issue of separated immigrant children, but also the current humanitarian and border crisis that continues to grip the country.
Indeed, Provost says she fully grasps what lies ahead for Border Patrol and the importance of addressing the recent media focus on agency operations.
“My agents are overextended right now because not only are they expected to fulfill their border security mission, but at the same time, they’re dealing with this humanitarian crisis, where they’ve had to become childcare professionals, medical professionals, food service staff and bus drivers,” Provost said. “We’re constantly in the media these days, but they never publish stories about what my men and women are doing to care for this population that our facilities weren’t even meant to hold. My goal is to change these negative perceptions about the Border Patrol, as well as the overall mindset of the public.”
Welcome to Provost’s world, where every decision she makes not only shapes her, but also shapes the individuals around her. Now, those same decisions will shape this country, if not the world. After all, Border Patrol, under its parent agency of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), bears a responsibility to enforce the security and migration mandates that successfully protect the homeland from harm.
Provost has grown accustomed to the constant attention that she draws, not only for the headlines regarding Border Patrol, but also because she is the first female chief in the nearly 95-year history of the Border Patrol.
“I don’t think of myself as a female [Border Patrol] agent, I’m just [an] … agent. But I obviously know it’s a big deal to be the first female chief,” Provost said. “You have this opportunity to lead the men and women of the Border Patrol, to be their voice, to get them the things they need, to try to make it a better place than when you came in. And I don’t know if I see that as being different if you’re a man versus a woman. I was given an opportunity, and I look at it as an opportunity, and just like every other job I have had, I want to do the best I can.”
This sense of excelling in any field stems from her upbringing. Provost said her parents instilled a mentality to work hard.
“Carla becoming the chief of the Border Patrol is a nice surprise, but she’s always been a very hard worker, and she was a great kid growing up, very responsible,” said Chief Provost’s father, Max.
He said he and his wife were nervous but supportive of her decision to enter into a law enforcement career, a job he once aspired to have. “Watching her fulfill one of my dreams made me even more proud of her.”
Provost was born on Nov. 21, 1969 in a small farming town, just outside of Topeka, called Burlingame, Kansas, to Max and Faye Provost. She is the youngest of three children. Her brother, Craig, is six years older and works in construction. He resided in Oklahoma until their mother’s illness prompted his return. Today, he lives just down the street from their father. Her sister, Cathy Francis, is four years older and works in the technology industry in Austin, Texas. Provost has one daughter, Haley.
“I have the most amazing family and loved my childhood,” Provost said. “I would describe it as the quintessential small-town upbringing. So small that I graduated from high school with a class of 32, the vast majority of whom I knew from birth.”
Provost was the ultimate athlete: She played softball, basketball, volleyball, ran track and cross country. But she also did well in academics, graduating third in her class. She later enrolled in Kansas State University, initially majoring in business but later switching to a sociology/criminal justice major. Provost said she was always interested in the way people think and react to certain issues, so it seemed like the right fit and ultimately became something that helped her advance in her career.
“I love interacting with people and understanding what makes them tick,” Provost said. “Even now, my favorite part of the job is being able to speak with my men and women and attend musters in the field. It’s always the highlight of any trip and goes back to being transparent and communicating with the workforce. I want them to know what’s going on and I want to know what they are concerned about as well.”
Provost graduated and became a police officer nearby at the Riley County, Kansas, Police Department in 1992. She recalls feeling a strong sense of pride in that first law enforcement position, knowing she was serving her country. But she knew she wanted to be part of something bigger.
“I loved being a police officer, but I was living paycheck to paycheck, and I always wanted to be a federal agent,” Provost said. “Here I am in my 20s, dreaming of joining the DEA, FBI or the U.S. Marshals Service, because that’s what I thought were the cool jobs. So, I applied for the U.S. Marshals, went through almost the entire process, and then they went into a hiring freeze.”
Then, a friend in the U.S. Marshals mentioned that Border Patrol was hiring. Provost had never heard of the agency but thought it would be a good way to get her foot in the federal door. She applied but received a rejection letter. And another. And another.
Finally, in December 1994, she received a phone call from the agency. After three rejection letters, she recalls initially believing it was a joke, but they wanted to hire her for an entry-level position in Douglas, Arizona. The catch? She would need to let them know her decision within a week, because a new class was about to begin at the Border Patrol Academy.
“I was 25 years old, spent my entire life in Kansas,” Provost said. “[I had] visited Colorado and Arkansas but had never really been anywhere. So, at the risk of dating myself, I got out my Rand-McNally map and looked up Douglas. I found Tucson, and it looked like Douglas was really close. Let me tell you, it’s not. But I made my decision, and I am so glad that I did.”
Provost entered on duty on Jan. 8, 1995. That day, she flew into Tucson, and the next Monday morning, she was loaded onto an alien transfer bus with her class to Douglas for a tour of the station.
“We’re going through the back roads and I’m seeing these run-down houses along the way, while they drive us to the station,” she said. “And all I’m thinking is, ‘Technically, I’m only on annual leave from the police department...’ ”
Provost, however, put her doubts aside and became a member of Class 277. She returned to Douglas following graduation from the Border Patrol Academy in May 1995 and immediately fell in love with the work.
From there, she began climbing up the ranks. She joined the bike patrol within a year, became a first-line supervisor, and finally left Douglas in 2006 to join the Yuma Sector in Arizona and work with one of her mentors: Ron Colburn, who retired as the deputy chief of the Border Patrol in 2009.
“Douglas was starting to cool down, I had 11 1/2 years there, and Yuma was the hot spot,” Provost said. “Ron Colburn was the new chief there, and I always had a lot of respect for him and his time in the Tucson sector. So, I started applying because I wanted to work with him, and it was the busiest place in the country. In 2006, I was hired on as an assistant chief patrol agent.”
Colburn said it was gratifying to see Provost early in her career as a rising star and observe her now as she fulfills her destiny.
“I have known Carla for many years and I’ve had the honor of working with her in the field, watching her become the leader she is today, and to occasionally mentor her,” Colburn said. “One of her strengths is her ability to prioritize the many challenges she faces daily as the leader of the Border Patrol. She also really cares about the men and women in the field, which explains why the troops are so enthusiastically loyal to her and the mission of the U.S. Border Patrol.”
Throughout her career, Provost made sure to touch every position that she possibly could and made a conscious effort to ensure that the positions she held were considered operational in nature versus administrative. She said she learned about the administrative facet later in her career.
Deputy Chief Scott Luck, who Provost considers both a mentor and a friend, was one of her supervisors when she first started as a trainee. He said she brings many strengths to the table, but the two traits that stand out are her honesty and integrity.
“I’m quite proud to be a part of her team,” Luck said. “Her purpose of being in this position is to support the men and the women in the field and make them safer and more efficient. She’s a collaborator, and she’s never set in her ways to the point where she can’t negotiate. This characteristic is valuable, especially in light of the current challenges we’re facing with the family units and the unaccompanied children at the border.”
Provost said she wants to do more to change the current discourse to show how with the limited resources they have, her agents are doing the best they can to protect our borders. Some of her priorities include ensuring that the Border Patrol has the best and most professional workforce and that the public is aware of what her agents are up against.
“The media may pick up on a story, one thing that went wrong, and they make it seem like that represents the entire Border Patrol,” Provost said. “What they aren’t portraying is that Border Patrol is made up thousands of men and women putting themselves on the line to protect the United States and its citizens every day. And it’s not an easy job. I’m just amazed at our men and women and what they’re doing day in and day out. They’re rescuing people every day. The best part of my day is when I get to call an agent and thank them for whatever heroic thing they did recently.”
Provost said she is thankful that the administration supports the work of the Border Patrol and that the Department of Homeland Security has an Acting Secretary like Kevin K. McAleenan who thoroughly understands CBP and the issues across different spectrums. The acting secretary shares a similar sentiment about Provost.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Carla Provost for over 15 years now and can say, with confidence, that she is the right choice to serve as the chief of the Border Patrol,” he said. “Her character and her unwavering commitment to protecting our nation from harm with professionalism and compassion is what makes her such an effective law enforcement leader. I look forward to continue collaborating with her as she leads the U.S. Border Patrol forward.”
Provost affirms that she is ready for these priorities and the challenges ahead. Especially when she has the support of what she considers her second family: the Border Patrol. She said she is also excited for the next generation of recruits, both male and female, to enter on duty and be a part of CBP.
“Ours is an amazing mission,” she said. “CBP protects this great nation against those who would do us harm. National security is border security, and my job is to ensure that Border Patrol agents are the best trained, best equipped and most professional law enforcement personnel in the world. To the men and women on the frontline protecting us, I say this: ‘Be proud of yourselves and the great work that you do every day. Wear your uniform with pride; honor it with integrity. I couldn’t be prouder of you and your commitment to the hard and noble work of protecting us.’ ”