Aviation Enforcement Agent (AEA) Alison Garduno has been around aircraft her entire life. Her father was a Naval officer stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, and her mother managed a base flying club. Eager to find her own path to the sky, Garduno changed course in college and joined the Navy as a Naval Aircrewman Mechanic.
In her two years of specialty training and flight school, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) was discussed as the “golden goose” of aviation careers. Ever since those conversations, she knew a career with AMO was exactly what she wanted.
Garduno specifically trained as a crew member for the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion; however as her time in the Navy was nearing an end, they began to phase the aircraft out of service. To continue working on the P-3 Orion, Garduno became a contractor for the Navy, but also kept her eye on her “dream job” with CBP.
During this time, she received a call about a position with AMO as a temporary non-law enforcement flight engineer. Garduno and three others were hired. It was her dream job, but the contract was not to exceed one year.
In that year, she flew on the P-3 in many long-range counter narcotics operations, primarily in South America. Garduno loved the work, crew mentality, and camaraderie. She was proud to take the fight to the cartels and noted that the countries that hosted the operations were equally helpful and appreciative. Of the experience she recalled, “I don’t know of any other place I could work to get the same experience.”
In order to stay with AMO, Garduno set out to apply as an AEA in permanent capacity. Her timeline moved swiftly thanks to already being employed by CBP. While the polygraph portion of the application concerned her, she understood the importance of it and persevered. Five months later, at the end of 2017, her hard work and determination paid off as she began training for her career with AMO.
As an AEA, she continues to take extreme pride in her work.
“You get more involved in high-risk taskings such as prisoner transport for other agencies,” Garduno said.
“There were pick-ups from foreign countries for high visibility targets. In other instances, we provided hurricane support video directly to the presidential situation room.”
When asked of her most proud career moments, Garduno said there were too many to name and reflected on being awarded the 2020 CBP Commissioner’s Award for Distinguished Service to Safety for her performance in 2019. “Being a safety officer can be a thankless job, but my senior Safety Officer James Ross and I were able to make a huge difference for our coworkers,” she said.
Garduno believes many of her teammates in AMO are successful thanks in part to the structure afforded to them and from their military experience. She recalls an estimated 90% of the National Air Security Operations Center Corpus Christi, Texas, is comprised of veteran naval P-3 professionals. Across the CBP AEA community, these statistics ring true as over two-thirds are military veterans.
Garduno has her dream job. She set her sights on a career as an AEA and let nothing get in her way. As for advice to those who aspire to join her in the skies, “You have to be able to stand on your own and nothing less.”