Commissioner Recognizes Highest Achievements
U.S. Customs and Border Protection leaders, employees and their families from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to recognize and honor the highest achievements, unwavering dedication and acts of courage during the past year.
While CBP’s workforce is known for commendable acts and accomplishments, 252 law enforcement and mission support professionals received honors for exceptional performance by CBP Commissioner McAleenan. Another eight were honored in five categories: leadership, invictus, integrity, heroism and valor.
Seven of those eight accepted their awards from Commissioner Kevin McAleenan and Acting Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez at the Commissioner’s Annual Awards Ceremony.
“It is always difficult to select these recipients each year because we have such an abundance of outstanding nominees,” said Commissioner McAleenan, presiding in his first awards ceremony since becoming CBP Commissioner. “I have visited CBP’s operations all over our country. In every field office and port, in every sector and station, I’m constantly struck by how energized the men and women of CBP are by our mission and how focused they are on the important — and often difficult — tasks at hand.”
The following agents, officers and mission support employees received tributes:
- Ann “Erin” Mercer, project manager, Office of Facilities and Asset Management, San Diego
Mercer is credited with leading the expansion of the Air and Marine Operations Center at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California; the Brown Field Border Patrol Station for 400 agents; and the Interstate-8 checkpoint, that won the Department of Homeland Security Sustainability Award.
- Vernon Foret, former New Orleans area port director, Office of Field Operations, and recently selected as executive director of the National Targeting Center.
Foret volunteered to oversee the emergency response during Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He and his team worked around the clock performing more than 1,500 wellness checks and spent four days assisting seven orphanages located in dangerous, isolated areas and re-established supply chains. He also led the effort to bring fuel, water, food and generators to the islands.
Invictus is Latin for “unconquerable” and recognizes employees who have triumphed over personal tragedy.
- Anthony Stokes, aviation enforcement agent, Air and Marine Operations, Jacksonville, Florida
Stokes was nearly killed on Sept. 26, 2017, after being shot by an 18-year-old drug pusher. He embraced a survival mindset. His dedication and determination to get through a painful recovery and return to the job was nothing short of remarkable.
- Salvador Sanchez, U.S. Border Patrol agent, Imperial, California
Returning home from work on July 26, 2017, Sanchez had a seizure, and doctors discovered two cysts along with a malignant tumor in his brain. After two surgeries to remove the tumor, he couldn’t move the left side of his body. Sanchez not only committed himself to recovery but went on to become a CrossFit instructor, performing daily workouts and offering nutritional guidance as well as assisting those with physical limitations. His fortitude and strength to overcome a personal tragedy became an inspiration to others.
- Rene Guarjardo, CBP officer, Office of Field Operations, Progreso, Texas
On Aug. 14, 2017, Guarjardo became suspicious when a fellow officer quickly cleared a vehicle into the United States. Relying on his intuition, he detained the vehicle containing a driver and passenger for further inspection. The driver became hesitant while questioned, and the passenger bolted from the vehicle but was apprehended as he ran toward Mexico. Guarjado’s quick thinking not only resulted in the arrest of a criminal alien passenger but revealed that the driver and the other officer were smuggling aliens into the United States.
- Israel Borjas, U.S. Border Patrol agent, El Paso, Texas
On Oct. 31, 2017, Borjas heard a call for help coming from a storm drain. He lifted the drain cover and spotted an alien who said his wife was stuck in the tunnel with a broken ankle. Without hesitation, Borjas moved in a crouched position 100 yards into the tight passage and came upon the injured and dehydrated woman. With extraordinary bravery, he placed the woman on his back and crawled on his hands and knees along a rugged surface with limited light to bring the woman to safety, saving her life while risking his own.
- Benjamin Lopez, CBP officer, Office of Field Operations, El Paso Field Office
On Aug. 18, 2017, a distraught traveler approached Lopez. The man removed a box cutter from his pocket, held it to his throat and threatened to kill himself. Risking his own life, Lopez calmly persuaded the man from killing himself, seized his hand and removed the box cutter. He then escorted the traveler to a holding area where he was kept under observation until emergency medical personnel and local authorities took control. Lopez’s decisive action defused a life-threatening situation to himself, the traveler and those around him.
- Matthew Matrosky, air interdiction agent, Air and Marine Operations, Yuma, Arizona
On Feb. 16, 2018, Matrosky was piloting his helicopter with another crewmember who experienced a medical emergency. The crewmember was looking upward and unresponsive, and Matrosky was just 200 feet from the ground. He then started shaking violently, interfering with the aircraft’s controls as Matrosky struggled to control the aircraft. Then his body went limp and he collapsed on the controls. Matrosky focused on flying the helicopter and landed on a highway, where the crewmember was aided by the Border Patrol and brought to an awaiting ambulance.
Named after Border Patrol Agents Theodore Newton and George Azrak who were kidnapped and murdered by four smugglers in 1967, this U.S. Border Patrol award recognizes unusual courage, bravery and heroic or humane acts.
- Osbaldo Rios, U.S. Border Patrol agent, Tucson, Arizona
On Sept. 13, 2017, Rios and two other agents responded to a ground sensor in a remote canyon about 15 miles north of Mexico and came upon five suspected illegal aliens who ran in many directions. Three were apprehended while Rios and his partner agent pursued the other two. His partner grabbed one suspect who was running down a steep embankment. They both then rolled down the hill with the suspect landing on top of the agent, hitting him several times, taking his gun, and pointed it at the agent. Rios yelled at the subject who then turned the weapon on Rios. Rios quickly shot him, preventing his partner and himself from being killed or injured.
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 official ports of entry. CBP is charged with securing the borders of the United States while enforcing hundreds of laws and facilitating lawful trade and travel.