Blue Mass parade led by CBP-directed pipes and drums
A combined pipes and drums unit of Montgomery County Police, U.S. Capitol Police, D.C. Metropolitan Police and CBP directed by Border Patrol Assistant Chief Richard Fortunato opened the 23rd annual Blue Mass on Tuesday. The unit led an honor guard formation representing regional city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
The Blue Mass at Washington D.C.’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church is an annual event to recall and remember law enforcers killed in the line of duty.
The program was a mix of recognition, procession and pageantry where the U.S. Border Patrol, Air and Marine Operations and the Office of Field Operations in their distinct uniforms joined hundreds of law enforcers, first responders, families and friends in paying their respects.
The formation advanced under clear skies and a blazing sun, passing under a huge American flag suspended from the ladders of two fire trucks parked on each side of the street. CBP’s eight-member combined honor guard was led by Supervisory Air Interdiction Agent April Peterson. Sixteen clergy in white robes, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, eventually joined the marchers. Eight U.S. Park Police on horses positioned side-by-side on the side of the street across from the church added to the pageantry.
Bagpipes droned, drums boomed and rattled as 18 kilted performers enlivened the parade with whirling their drum sticks and spinning mallets. Craning onlookers packing both sides of the street snapped photos. The combined pipes and drums team met only that day but knew their role so well they were ready to lead the marchers after rehearsing just 10 minutes, said Fortunato, who’s also commander of U.S. Border Patrol pipes and drums.
The formation proceeded to the church, marched up the steps, through the building’s rear vestibule and back to the street in a circuit that ended with a final entry into the church, now filled almost to capacity by nearly 500 law enforcers, families and friends, along with CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. The mass included reading the names of the fallen followed by two trumpeters playing taps. In 2016, 135 law enforcement officers were killed on duty, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
“These officers are motivated by love,” said Cardinal Wuerl, in his address during the mass. “Their love of their families to be sure, and also their love for the community, their selfless love for those they do not even know, for those who may not even like or appreciate them, but for whom they are willing to risk their own lives.” He said law enforcers deserve enormous gratitude for being “the line between harm and everyone else.”
For CBP Officer Greta Campos, OFO’s national honor guard director, this was her third Blue Mass. “I love the participation of local, state, federal agencies and the church to honor those who died in the line of duty.”
It was also the third Blue Mass for Border Patrol Agent and honor guard member Abel Gonzales. “I think about the [fallen] agents, their spouse, their families, no matter how long ago,” he said, reflecting on the event. The annual Blue Mass began in 1934 as an opportunity for police to gather and pray for their fallen comrades. The mass now takes place in combination with Police Week, another event that recognizes and honors law enforcers who died in the line of duty. Police Week began in 1962 and takes place this year from May 11 – 17 with significant CBP participation.
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.