Despite the Border Patrol being a considerably dangerous and male-dominant career path, Gloria I. Chavez was certain growing up she would not only one day become an agent, but ultimately hold a stewardship role within the agency.

Chavez’s drive and determination has since led her on a 23-year-long career within the law enforcement agency. During that time, she’s held multiple leadership roles throughout the country, her most recent being the El Centro Sector’s newly appointed Chief Patrol Agent.

Since starting the position on April 1, Chavez has looked forward to sharing her wealth of knowledge and experience as well as her fresh perspective on border security in both Imperial and Riverside counties.

“I’m settled in just right,” Chavez said. “I think Imperial Valley is going to be my home for a long while. I want to continue to build what’s already been enacted here to continue to strengthen the bond between us and our community.”

Although she’s spent a majority of her career in California, Chavez is actually a Texas native. Born in Dallas, she was raised and completed her K-12 schooling in Brownsville, which is a border town at the southern tip of Texas.

Before becoming a nationally recognized Customs and Border Protection senior executive leader, Chavez was intrigued by having a career in law enforcement, although not exactly with the Border Patrol.

The road less traveled

“I don’t know what drew me to law enforcement to be honest,” Chavez said. “It was not my lifelong dream to be a Border Patrol agent. What I was very intrigued by was the FBI, and I was intrigued about the courtroom. When I was young, I remember gravitating to the shows about crime and justice and prosecution.”

Her interest would soon lead to her to become a first-generation law enforcement member within her family. Her husband of 20 years also serves as a Border Patrol agent in Yuma.

After graduating in 1988 from Gladys Porter High School, Chavez and her mother, father and three siblings moved from Brownsville to Corpus Christi.

In her new town, Chavez was eager to find a job that would accommodate her schedule to attend college courses.

The Texas native eventually found a job as a clerk in the Nueces County Sheriff’s Department warrants division.

“Being there, I started really getting interested in law enforcement work and what they were about and what they were doing there,” Chavez said. “And I think that’s what drew me.”

Being surrounded by the sheriff’s office environment eventually drew Chavez’s interest so much so that she joined the Sheriff’s Academy to become a deputy sheriff.

Now a deputy, Chavez, who was 22 years old at the time, spent about three years with the sheriff’s office before she was drawn to a career as a police officer.

“I wanted to do more,” Chavez said. “I wanted to be a cop. I wanted to be a police officer patrolling the streets of Corpus.”

After applying to local police departments in the area and receiving no response, Chavez then tried her luck at applying to departments in the surrounding cities of Corpus.

She eventually accepted an offer from the police department in Taft, Texas, which is located about 20 miles north of Corpus Christi.

At the start of her new career, Chavez was the rookie on the police force, which had about eight officers in total. She worked the graveyard shift.

“But I loved it,” Chavez said. “I remember I loved this job. At that time, I was about 24 years old, and everything was great. I really did love that job.”

Setting a new bar

Chavez then unexpectedly encountered the spark that would ignite her career in the Border Patrol at a local family barbecue that her then boyfriend, now husband invited her to in 1994.

During the barbecue, Chavez was introduced to her husband’s best friend’s sister. After a brief conversation between the two, Chavez was amazed by the woman’s career choice.

“And I said, “What? What do you mean you’re an agent?’” Chavez said. “I don’t know why I couldn’t believe that. I thought it was weird or so cool that a girl like her was a Border Patrol agent and — not in Texas — in Yuma, Ariz.”

Intrigued by how the woman described the lifestyle of an agent, Chavez eventually decided to apply a year after their conversation to the Border Patrol academy in Glynco, Ga.

After completing the academy in May 1995, Chavez was first assigned to the front lines at the Imperial Beach Station, San Diego Sector.

Chavez’s Customs and Border Protection biography states she excelled at many diverse leadership assignments in the field that enabled her to be promoted to the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

There, she managed border security training missions and coordinated the deployment of agents to foreign countries across the globe.

Additionally, she led several bilateral negotiations with the government of Mexico on policy and training agreements on behalf of CBP.

In 2007, she returned to the southwest border as an assistant chief patrol agent, overseeing the communications and community engagement departments for the San Diego Sector.

Chavez’ arrival in San Diego reinvigorated the relationship between the Border Patrol and the local community as she created and implemented policies that positively affected public outreach and community relations efforts.

Chavez assumed her first station command as the patrol agent in charge of the Chula Vista Station, San Diego Sector in 2008.

She then promoted to Chief Patrol Agent and assumed command of the Spokane Sector in 2010. There she commanded seven Border Patrol stations along the U.S.-Canada border.

“My ultimate goal was to be a patrol agent in charge of a station,” Chavez said. “And I remember telling myself if I ever retire as a PAIC, I’ve made it in the Border Patrol.”

In 2015, Chavez was able to surpass that career goal to achieve the senior executive service position of deputy chief for the Law Enforcement Operations Division, Washington, D.C., where she oversaw operations and intelligence programs for 20 Border Patrol sectors nationwide.

“You always have to have goals. It’s the tenacity that someone has, the determination that you have to succeed that really drives you to take on that next challenge,” Chavez said. “And what’s driven me to continue embracing some of these leadership positions that I’ve been in has been taking on some of those challenges.”

A leader of men

In previous leadership positions before her arrival here, Chavez had noticed male agents react differently to a woman being in charge as opposed to having a male leader.

“As I move through positions of leadership, I’ve encountered at times the question of, “Ma’am, are you sure? Ma’am, are you sure you want to go in that direction? And I don’t know if that question would be asked of a male leader.”

Aside from her accomplishments within the Border Patrol, Chavez graduated magna cum laude from Columbia Southern University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice administration.

She also holds a Master of Arts degree in security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School, and is a senior executive fellow of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Chavez’s most recent goal is to focus on making El Centro Sector the best sector possible.

“I just want to be here and do the best I can,” Chavez said. “I take this position very humbly. I see myself in a stewardship role where I can support the agents to train them well to provide them the equipment and the resources they need.”

The El Centro Sector is comprised of 1,200 agents and mission readiness personnel who are responsible for securing 70 miles of international border with Mexico.

“Chief Chavez’ dynamic and diverse leadership coupled with her love for community engagement will ensure the continued success of the El Centro Sector for years to come,” a CBP news release on Chavez said.

Go for it

Although she and her husband decided early on to not have children of their own, Chavez continues to share her leadership guidance to family members and others interested in pursuing a career in Border Patrol.

“I have nieces; I have nephews, and let me tell you, my life is full right now because they’re all growing,” Chavez said. “They’re all in their teenage years or older. As you know with Latino families, we’re very united. We’re always in each other’s business, so I get to know what’s going on.”

As women only account for 5 percent of Border Patrol agents nationally and 7 percent of agents in El Centro, Chavez advised those interested in joining the agency not to be afraid of taking the next step.

“I always like to encourage them that while you do have a big investment to do up front, which is the academy, the academy is going to prepare you to be the agent of tomorrow,” Chavez said. “So don’t stress about the things that you don’t know. You haven’t gone through the training yet, and a lot of women hesitate because of it. Don’t be afraid to take on this challenge. At the end of your career, you are going to be better for it. You’re not going to have regrets because it’s going to give you a nice lifetime experience and a great retirement package in the end.”

Staff Writer Vincent Osuna can be reached at vosuna@ivpressonline.com or 760-337-3442.

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