“It's OK to say you don't know because you're not supposed to know everything. But you must be helpful, “said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Mission Support Specialist Anna Cruz.
Cruz is responsible for providing support, guidance, and expertise for the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), Investigative Operations Division, in Los Angeles Mission Support Specialists perform their work in a multitude of different settings supporting CBP’s officers and agents across the country and overseas. Cruz supports CBP’s special agents who are critical to ensuring CBP safeguards and promoting the integrity and security of their workforce.
“I really love where I'm at, I really do. I don't even know how to explain,” says Cruz. In comparison to CBP Officers, Border Patrol Agents, and Air and Marine Operations Officers and Agents, CBP OPR is a small team of special agents but mighty with a complex mission set.
“My day starts at 5:30 a.m. reading emails. Like many others, I always have my day planned but it never turns out the way I plan it. Things always come up. In this position, you always have to be flexible.” Her duties include helping agents with travel, leave issues, filing of case files, picking up and sorting mail, and paying bills. “I always make sure we have enough supplies to cover the needs of the agents, from paper to toners to batteries and more.” As the budget officer, she also makes sure there are funds to cover everything.
Cruz started her career with CBP as a secretary with the Office of Chief Counsel. This was a far call from her dream of being a dentist.
Born in Angeles City, Philippines, Cruz’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child, eventually returning to the Philippines for the duration of high school.
After graduation, she enrolled in Centro Escolar University in Manila and began working toward her goal of dentistry. However, in her first day as a dental assistant she quickly learned that despite her bubbly nature and interest in helping people, her stomach was not made for dentistry. Given her nature and her love of travel, her family encouraged her to pursue a career in the airline industry. Soon after enrolling at Pacific Travel School in Santa Ana, California, Cruz was employed with Korean Airlines.
“I loved working there. I was a reservations agent. People would call in and we would make their reservation. In 1988 there was no Google or Internet, so everybody called into that 800 number to make or cancel their reservations.” After thirteen years of working in the airline industry, Cruz’s career came to a halt on Sept. 11, 2001, as she and so many others were laid off in the wake of the resulting airport closures.
She worried about how her family would make ends meet. “Here I am laid off, we had a brand-new house” Cruz said. Then a family member suggested she apply to be a federal employee. She wasn’t sure she could do it. She recalls, “I kept telling her, I have no experience.”
Cruz began applying for secretary positions and by the end of December, she accepted a role with the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s office. Despite her reservations she was very capable. Shortly after, she applied for a secretary position with the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This job would later transition to CBP’s Office of Chief Counsel (OCC).
Nearly a decade later she decided it was time to advance her career and Cruz applied for a Mission Support Specialist position with the Office of Field Operations (OFO). She quickly learned a myriad of things and became the support equivalent of a “jack of all trades.” Mission Support Specialists are versatile people. They handle budget and finance matters; management principles; human resources and administrative functions; training and employee development; logistics and procurement management; personal, physical and information security; and so much more. For nearly seven years, she helped to support over 1,200 CBP Officers and non-uniformed employees with their day-to-day needs.
Moving from OCC to OFO was a big change from her previous roleYes ma’am; however she was ready for the challenge. Cruz’s personable nature and can-do attitude led her through. “I'm forever grateful for all the knowledge. Because of my experience with OFO, when I came to OPR I already knew at least 70% of the job.”
Once more, in the interest of advancing her career, Cruz left OFO in 2018 and began her current role with OPR. Her case load has significantly diminished as she is now responsible for the needs of approximately 15 special agents. However, the unique needs of the agents make every day very different as their travel is spontaneously aligned with each investigation that arises.
Known for her outgoing nature, should she even sound slightly less happy than usual on the phone, her colleagues notice. She prides herself on service. “Even if I don't know, I'll get an answer. Or I'll get the person who can give you the answer.”
When asked which personality traits would aid a person in her role, Cruz looked inward. Optimism and enthusiasm were at the top of her list. “You know, the job you can always learn. Everywhere you go to, the job is the part you can learn. It's your attitude that you need to adjust. Just put your heart into it.” She continued, “I really do like to help people. I think that's the job. That's my position.”