An unprecedented year. An unprecedented number of losses. An unprecedented amount of grief. This year’s Valor Memorial and Wreath Laying Ceremony at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., May 12, was an occasion to remember the fallen and share compassion with their loved ones. Thirty-seven CBP employees died in the line of duty during 2021 – the most in one year in the history of the agency and its legacy agencies – and the ceremony looked to recognize not only their ultimate sacrifices, but the sacrifices of the families, friends and colleagues the 37 left behind.
“We will never forget them,” CBP
Commissioner Troy Miller said during the ceremony. “Nor will we forget that each one of these men and women left behind spouses, partners, children, parents, siblings and other family members who miss them every single day. They represent empty chairs at the dinner table, at graduations. They will miss birthdays, anniversaries, games and concerts.”
While the losses were unprecedented, the dedication CBP showed to the families, friends and colleagues of those lost remained steady, recognizing and trying to alleviate their grief.
“We grieve with you and we honor your enduring sacrifice,” Miller said. “You will ever remain a part of our family – the CBP family.”
The 37 CBP employees who were honored include:
- CBP Officer Trainee Wolf Valmond, CBP Field Operations Academy, Glynn County, Georgia;
- CBP Agriculture Specialist Juan Ollervidez III, Hidalgo Port of Entry, Hidalgo, Texas;
- Facility Operations Specialist Denis Jasper Wells, CBP Office of Facilities and Asset Management, Tucson, Arizona;
- CBP Officer Andrew R. Bouchard, Houston Seaport Port of Entry, Houston;
- CBP Officer Troy A. Adkins, El Paso Port of Entry, El Paso, Texas;
- CBP Officer Byron Shields, Nogales Port of Entry, Nogales, Arizona;
- Director of Field Operations Beverly Good, Baltimore;
- Special Agent Robert Allan Mayer Jr., Office of Professional Responsibility, Resident Agent in Charge Office, Del Rio, Texas;
- Maintenance Mechanic Rudy Morales Jr., Office of Facilities and Asset Management, El Paso, Texas;
- CBP Officer Cesar Sibonga, Kenneth G. Ward Port of Entry, Lynden, Washington;
- CBP Officer Genaro Guerrero, San Ysidro Port of Entry, San Ysidro, California;
- CBP Officer Carlos C. Mendoza, Hidalgo Port of Entry, Hidalgo, Texas;
- CBP Officer Crispin San Jose, San Ysidro Port of Entry, San Ysidro, California;
- Border Patrol Agent Alejandro Flores-Bañuelos, Indio Station, Indio, California;
- Border Patrol Agent Christopher Shane Simpkins, Lake Charles Station, Lake Charles, Louisiana;
- Border Patrol Agent Freddie Vasquez, El Paso Station, El Paso, Texas;
- Border Patrol Agent Juan M. Urrutia, Brownsville Station, Olmito, Texas;
- CBP Officer Ruben Facio, New Orleans Port of Entry, New Orleans;
- Border Patrol Agent Edgardo Acosta-Feliciano, Deming Station, Deming, New Mexico;
- Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Daniel P. Cox, Special Operations Detachment, Tucson, Arizona;
- Border Patrol Agent Ricardo Zarate, McAllen Station, McAllen, Texas;
- CBP Officer Yokemia L. Conyers, Miami International Airport Port of Entry, Miami;
- CBP Officer Monica J. Riola, Los Angeles International Airport Port of Entry, Los Angeles;
- CBP Officer Erik J. Skelton, Miami International Airport Port of Entry, Miami;
- Border Patrol Agent Chad E. McBroom, Special Operations Detachment, Tucson Sector, Tucson, Arizona;
- CBP Technician Francisco V. Tomas, Miami International Airport Port of Entry, Miami;
- CBP Officer David B. Saavedra, Miami International Airport Port of Entry, Miami;
- Border Patrol Agent Luis H. Dominguez, Wellton Station, Yuma, Arizona;
- Border Patrol Agent David B. Ramirez, Sector Intelligence Unit, San Diego Sector, San Diego;
- Border Patrol Agent Alfredo M. Ibarra, Blythe Station, Blythe, California;
- CBP Officer Victor Donate, Atlanta Port of Entry, Atlanta;
- Enforcement Analysis Specialist David H. Gray, Houlton Sector Intelligence Unit, Hodgdon, Maine;
- Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Rafael G. Sanchez, Hebbronville Station, Hebbronville, Texas;
- Port Director Mathew L. Lyons, Whitlash Port of Entry, Whitlash, Montana;
- Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Anibal “Tony” Perez, Ajo Station, Why, Arizona;
- Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Martin Barrios, Brian A. Terry Station, Bisbee, Arizona;
- Border Patrol Agent Salvador Martinez Jr., El Paso Station, El Paso, Texas
The 37 remembered – coupled with 2020’s 23 CBP members lost in the line of duty, unprecedented in its own right – was a reminder that CBP employees continued to work the front lines despite the dangers brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the past two years, Chief Operating Officer [Benjamin “Carrie”] Huffman and I have attended too many funerals. We’ve met many of the families of the fallen and we’ve grieved your loved ones’ loss with you,” Miller said. “And we’ve lost friends ourselves. As a leader of an agency like CBP, we feel each death personally, whether we knew them or not. I am humbled by the grief and mourning I see before me today.”
This year’s ceremony returned to its traditional May date to coincide with Police Week, as the ceremony in 2020 was canceled and 2021’s ceremony was moved to last October to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions. The Secretary of Homeland Security – CBP’s parent agency – addressed some of the challenges recently faced by law enforcement in this country, including CBP.
“Battling through a pandemic, you’ve been on the front lines of an historic surge in migration, blockades that impacted different ports of entry, shifting duties and responsibilities, extended hours and months away from family,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. “While we are working day and night to solve these challenges, you are shouldering their weight week in and week out.”
The secretary also recognized those who lost someone in law enforcement and what they have had to endure during this same time.
“The road to service is paved by those who made the ultimate sacrifice – not only those we lost, but their families, friends, loved ones, colleagues and neighbors, too,” he said. “Each time an agent or officer of CBP dons their uniform, pins on their badge, holsters their firearm and walks out the front door of their home, their loved ones walk out that front door, too. The risk that one bears is born by others. The loss of life is a loss felt deeply and profoundly by others. To the families and loved ones of the fallen, it was your love and support that made their service possible.”
The soft sobs of those who attended the ceremony in person could still be heard as bagpipes played the mournful tones of “Amazing Grace” and CBP’s Honor Guard folded the American flag into its distinctive three-cornered shape. One-by-one, officials representing Homeland Security and CBP’s uniformed and nonuniformed components placed roses in a wreath commemorating the losses.
The ceremony is designed to remember the 37 who died in 2021 and the 307 who died over more than two centuries of CBP and its legacy agencies. Miller added that while it recognizes the families, friends and colleagues who mourn them, it should also serve as a reminder of their lives of service and a reminder of the service the approximately 60,000 CBP employees continue to display.
“They served with honor, integrity, courage, and distinction. They put service to country above everything else,” he said. “Let us forever honor them – and their families – with our continued service every day.”