Twenty-three names read aloud. Twenty-three colleagues lost in the line of duty. Twenty-three families left to mourn, but not left alone and not forgotten. Twenty-three lives memorialized during U.S Customs and Border Protection’s National Police Week and Valor Memorial and Wreath Laying Ceremony at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15. Some of the names were recent; some were from CBP’s legacy agencies more than 100 years ago. But all were remembered.
“We come together during National Police Week to honor our fallen, to mourn our lost brothers and sisters, and to grieve with the families who live with their loved one’s enduring sacrifice every single day,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller. “Today’s ceremony is a solemn acknowledgment of the difficulties the CBP workforce has faced for nearly two years. But for the families, friends, and colleagues of those we lost, it is an especially difficult day.”
This year’s memorial ceremony – usually a staple of every year’s Police Week ceremonies – was the first since 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the scheduled May 2020 Police Week, and the Delta variant delayed this year’s recognition of those in CBP who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
As the commissioner read brief biographies of each of the 23, he remarked how they not only were great assets to a grateful nation – a Border Patrol agent noted for her commitment to the mission only to be killed along a lonely stretch of Texas highway – but how they were beloved brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who were treasured by the families who lost them – a CBP officer known for his love of cooking for and with his family, especially homemade pizza and cheesecakes. Each one a public loss for an agency charged with protecting a nation, and a private grief for those who continue to mourn that loss every single day. Miller said CBP will never forget.
“Every single death represents a parent, sibling, spouse, or child left behind. Their families and communities will grieve with them forever. These individuals will forever be an empty chair at mealtimes, at birthdays, and graduations. They will miss games, anniversaries, and weddings,” he said. “They each had a CBP family – a group of colleagues they served side by side with. Colleagues who won’t get to see their smiles, share a laugh during a shift, or have lunch with them again. Together, we mourn each loss with them.”
A dozen of the names added to the memorial came from CBP’s Office of Field Operations – the men and women who wear the blue uniforms and check passengers’ passports, inspect goods coming in through air, sea and land ports of entry, and work with their CBP colleagues to make sure the nation’s borders are secure. It’s an unprecedented number of losses for a part of CBP that might only see one or two names added to the list each year.
“Our front-line personnel report for duty each day with a commitment to serve and protect our country and the American people — it’s part of our ethos,” said Executive Assistant Commissioner William Ferrara, who is in charge of the more than 32,000 men and women in the Office of Field Operations, CBP’s largest component. His remarks came separately from the memorial. “The unprecedented number of losses we suffered during the pandemic is a stark reminder that we must never take for granted those who take an oath to protect and serve. As we do our best to heal as an agency, we will never forget the sacrifice of those who passed and their families who are left behind.”
Also during remarks separate from the ceremony, Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol Raul Ortiz said 2019 and 2020 were historic years, which brought landmark policy changes because of a worldwide pandemic.
“The Border Patrol is a family, and as such, each member is important to me,” he said. “Losing a family member is never easy, and I will forever be grateful for their honor, commitment and sacrifice.”
“The Valor Memorial honors the employees who have made the ultimate sacrifice and reminds us of the challenges we face every day,” said Executive Assistant Commissioner Stephen Boyer of CBP’s Air and Marine Operations, the component responsible for all of the agency’s helicopters and planes and most of its boats. “We could not fulfill our mission without these everyday heroes, and our nation will be forever indebted to their service to country.”
In addition to the CBP officials who attended the ceremony, the Secretary of Homeland Security – CBP’s parent agency – addressed the crowd gathered for the solemn remembrance, noting too many times as he visited CBP ports of entry, Border Patrol stations and air branches across the country, he saw officers and agents wear a black ribbon over their badges – a symbol of a colleague who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.
“We have lost far too many colleagues these past two years,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. “The men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whom we honor today, whom we remember, and to whom we pay tribute, serve their country at great personal sacrifice and paid the greatest cost. Throughout their time of service, they understood the risks of their noble law enforcement profession, but they were never deterred. For them, there was no obstacle in their pursuit of the core values of the institution of which they were and always will be a part. For them, there was no obstacle to their unwavering commitment to the safety and security of the American people.”
Miller concluded that the ceremony recognizes not only the 23, but all those CBP and legacy agency employees – 270 of them – who have lost their lives in the line of duty, as well as those who continue to protect the nation’s borders today.
“They served with honor, with integrity, with courage and distinction. They are heroes, who put service to their country above all else,” he said. “Let us forever honor them – and their families – with our continued service every single day.”