Commissioner Kerlikowske’s Remarks at the CBP Officer Basic Training Graduation
Remarks as prepared for March 3, 2016
First, I would just like to say: Congratulations to all of our new graduates. It’s my pleasure to join you for the graduation ceremony for the CBP Officer Basic Training Session 393. And it’s an honor to celebrate this occasion with you.
I salute you on your decision to join a law enforcement agency that serves our country with vigilance, integrity, and honor throughout the United States and abroad. I also want to welcome the many family members, friends, and CBP and FLETC employees, who are here to join us in honoring your achievements.
This afternoon, 46 of you walked in as trainees and 46 of you will leave this ceremony as sworn law enforcement officers. I’d like to be one of the first to formally welcome you to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations.
Some months ago, each of you made a very important and honorable decision. In support of protecting our country and our citizens, you chose to begin or continue your public service careers with CBP.
You’ve held a wide variety of jobs– some of you have already served your country in the military – and we owe you a profound debt of gratitude. Others have served in various law enforcement and public safety capacities, including the United States Border Patrol and the Transportation Security Administration. Still others have been DEA contractors, retail associates, HVAC specialists, factory managers, paralegals, bartenders – even an aviation mechanic.
And your interests are as varied as you are – and the people you will serve. You have surfers, anglers, hunters, musicians, travel enthusiasts, video gamers, cooks, movie buffs, and photographers among your ranks.
You are now dedicating yourselves to protecting our homeland from terrorist threats and ensuring the freedom of the American people. CBP operates 24 hours a day, every day of every year with no breaks, no vacations, no closings, and certainly no margin for error.
The Office of Field Operations is a force of nearly 23,000 law enforcement officers at 20 field offices, overseeing 328 ports of entry throughout the country – you are now a part of that proud family and tradition.
But let’s be clear: not everybody is up to the job. CBP officers set themselves apart by doing what they do every day, stopping bad people and bad things from entering the United States. It’s difficult and demanding work, requiring keen instincts and sound judgment.
Many years ago, a Congressman named Frank Clark – who graduated from law school here in Georgia, by the way – was fond of saying that “if you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”
That’s true on so many levels, and it’s true for us at CBP.
Law enforcement is tough, the challenges are many, and that’s what makes it one of the most rewarding careers I can think of. And I speak from experience, having worn a badge for several decades.
As a CBP officer, you are a principal representative of our agency and therefore you are required to demonstrate a superior level of professionalism at all times.
The bar is high. And each of you has stepped up – choosing a noble profession for which there is no greater honor than the pride of knowing that you are now an integral part of protecting our nation and our way of life.
That brings me to the subject of integrity.
It’s one of CBP’s three core values – the others, of course, being professionalism and service to country.
I know that, as newly minted officers, you embody all three these principles. And it’s up to you, me, and the rest of the employees in our agency to assure the public that we will never waver in upholding these core values.
Of these values, integrity is key.
You will have to make many decisions throughout your career and life – some simple and straight forward, some difficult. Those difficult decisions will be a struggle. As you face those decisions, remember what Mark Twain said: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but you will always maintain your integrity by doing so. Whether at a port of entry or at a field office, you are a primary gateway for people who want to get into the United States. For many travelers, you will be the first person they will see or speak to when they arrive in the United States.
You hold a degree of power and authority that should never be abused or misapplied.
And the decisions you make could severely affect a person’s impression of our agency, our government, and our country. Those decisions could also affect a person’s life – or the safety and security of our country.
You will encounter a variety of challenging and, at times, difficult situations as an officer. You must always project the highest level of professionalism, attentiveness, and honesty – and this applies to all aspects of your life. Your responsibilities do not end when you are no longer in uniform, because your behavior and actions – both positive and negative – are a reflection of both your character and our agency.
Every day, CBP officers are heroes – simply by doing what they are trained to do.
At the Port of San Ysidro, California, for example, an officer encountered a man driving a pick-up truck. The man appeared excessively nervous and the officer referred him for a secondary inspection. A narcotics detection dog alerted to the truck’s undercarriage, and CBP seized 150 pounds of liquid methamphetamine from the fuel tank. Those drugs – worth nearly $1.5 million – are now out of circulation.
Meanwhile, up in New York at JFK airport, CBP officers took a closer look at some bags of candy being carried by a traveler arriving from Mexico and found more than six pounds of cocaine.
But it’s not just narcotics.
CBP officers in Miami seized 1,200 fake Tiffany bracelets which – if they had been real – would have sold for more than $2.8 million. In this case, CBP officers worked with import specialists to successfully protect Tiffany’s intellectual property rights.
In Chicago, we recently seized more than 16,000 counterfeit hoverboards – worth more than $6 million – that contained counterfeit batteries and fake trade logos. And hoverboard seizures have made national news given the dangers these counterfeit products pose to consumers.
These officers will soon be your colleagues. You’ll learn from them. You’ll become one of them. And I know you’ll make us proud.
This ceremony is a milestone on a journey you began on October 21st – and who knows where it can take you?
As an officer, your options will be limitless. There will be opportunities to be stationed throughout the country, and even abroad, or to spend time at Headquarters in Washington, D.C. If you aspire to be a Supervisor or Program Manager or Port Director – you absolutely can do it and we encourage you to do so. Officers advance when they are known to be reliable, professional, responsible, ambitious, and dedicated to the well-being of our agency.
As CBP officers, you have accepted the greatest of responsibilities: to protect and serve our Nation. Our core values state clearly that: “We are dedicated to defending and upholding the Constitution of the United States. The American people have entrusted us to protect the homeland and defend liberty.” You have been called to duty and today you have answered that call.
I welcome you, our agency welcomes you.
Together, we are the guardians of our Nation’s borders.
We are America’s frontline.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.