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Breaching the gender wall at the Border Patrol

To date, only three women have become members of the Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR) Team of U.S. Customs and Border Protection — Julie Gallagher is one of them

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government.

As law enforcement officers we face a multitude of challenges every day. Whether it’s dealing with the problems of the public or justifying our actions to the brass, there’s always something we must overcome. 

For the female LEO, these challenges can seem doubled. Let’s face it, some of our male counterparts look upon us as weak and not always up to the task. If a suspect is able to get the upper hand on a female officer, some may say it’s because she couldn’t handle the physical aspects of the job. If a woman sheds a tear in a particularly troubling or stressful moment or shows any act of overt kindness, these can be seen as weakness. 

Despite the numerous gains women in policing have made, we still have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect because of the limitations placed upon us by some in the workplace and the general public. 

Overcoming Challenges
We female LEOs sometimes place extra burdens upon ourselves because we know we have to work twice as hard in order to be accepted. Some of us choose to accept the differences and go along in our careers without attempting to overcome them. Others see the challenge as a hurdle that must be conquered. I believe it’s how we address these obstacles that truly separate us from our male colleagues.
One such person is Julie Gallagher. Gallagher is a supervisor with the Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) Team of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Qualifications to become a member of BORSTAR are physically demanding, and 99 percent of BORSTAR members are male. A number of female agents have tried, but very few have passed the grueling physical requirements. 

To date, only three women have become members of BORSTAR. Julie Gallagher is one of them.

BORSTAR agents are trained beyond basic first aid and most are nationally certified as paramedics. Like all Border Patrol agents, BORSTAR agents primarily patrol the border in remote areas, but they can be called upon to provide medical assistance and render aid. This aid can range from searching for lost illegal immigrants, to treating cases of minor dehydration, to responding to high-risk situations such as shootings or vehicle accidents. BORSTAR agents must always be ready and able to respond at a moment’s notice.  

Another challenge that Gallagher took on is teaching physical techniques (PT) at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico. As with BORSTAR, the overwhelming majority of PT instructors are men. In fact, until Gallagher’s arrival, Artesia had never had a female Border Patrol PT instructor. 

The biggest challenge wasn’t to show that she could run or do push-ups and pull-ups like the guys. To “prove” herself, she had to suit up in the Redman outfit. For readers who are unfamiliar with the Redman outfit, instructors dress up in a padded suit and act as “bad guys” in scenario-based training. 

Just the sight of someone in a Redman suit gets the adrenaline pumping because we know someone is going to get taken to the ground. This can be one of the most physically intense parts of a PT instructor’s job. Gallagher took a lot of hard blows, perhaps more than her male counterparts, but she handled it with the same intensity and was always willing to suit up. In turn, she gained the respect of her colleagues as well as her students. 

Role Models, Mentors, and Trail Blazers
For Gallagher, it wasn’t about proving herself. She believes the guys should expect her to do everything they do. She may do it differently, but it’s about doing the same job and carrying the same expectations as the males. I have known Gallagher both personally and professionally for many years and I consider her to be one of the most professional and capable role models for agents regardless of gender. 

Assimilating into a male-dominated field with very few role models or mentors is what Madelenee (Lynn) Cruz faced. Agent Cruz has held various high-level supervisory positions throughout the Border Patrol of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and is now serving as the assistant patrol agent in charge at the Tucson Border Patrol Station. When Cruz joined the Border Patrol in 1988, there were few females to blaze a trail for women joining the organization. 

From day one, Cruz has always tried to be true to the commitment she made to the organization upon taking her oath of office. Cruz has always given 100 percent in every task she’s faced. This contributed to her credibility and reputation as a leader. 

This, in turn, allowed her to recognize who to reach out to for guidance and mentoring. Training and networking helped build her self-assurance and provided the tools for her own development plan. The confidence she gained was something she had to develop within herself, while the networking helped her to become the strong, confident leader she is today. Mentors didn’t have to be female for her to look up to or learn from them. She learned how to take charge of what she wanted and how to ask for the assignments, training and developmental programs to reach her short- and long-term goals. 

Since her promotion to supervisor, developing and mentoring agents is a key motivation. Cruz takes the most personal pride in seeing agents develop professionally and make a positive contribution to the future of the Border Patrol. With this mindset, she has become a better asset to the agency. Cruz said it best when she said that women in various leadership roles give hope to those who think they can never achieve rank, high level positions or specialty positions based on physical abilities. 

Women continue to make positive contributions to law enforcement. We are strong, and our influences continue to create progressive improvements for the overall successes and betterment of the profession. 

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