Meet three women who have enjoyed exciting careers as FBI Special Agents.
Becoming a Special Agent in the FBI is no easy task. Many begin preparing in high school to meet the physical fitness and testing requirements. The application and screening process, called phase 1, can take a year or more and involves testing, in-person meetings, a written assessment, and a panel interview with three Special Agents.
Once you’ve completed those hurdles, you’ll move on to phase 2, which involves an extensive background investigation and the completion of the 21-week Basic Field Training Course and Physical Fitness Test. The entire process takes dedication and tenacity, but Special Agents say it’s worth all the effort. Let’s meet three local women based in the Norfolk Field Office of the FBI and find out why they wanted to become Special Agents and how their careers have changed them for the better.
Special Agent Jennifer Bach
Women Are Being Recruited At A Record Pace
Special Agent Jennifer Bach has been with the FBI for 16 years but can’t recall ever wanting to do anything else. While in college in 1995, she was accepted to a summer honors internship with the FBI and worked in the fingerprint lab at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
“During my lunch break, I would go to the gym and watch the agent recruits train,” Jennifer said. “I watched everything they did because I knew I would be in their shoes.”
Jennifer shot her first firearm during her internship and admits to still having a VHS cassette recording of it, along with a photograph of her in her first suit standing next to the FBI director at the time. “I still have that suit,” she said. “I can’t bear to get rid of it.”
Jennifer went back to college fully knowing her career would be with the FBI. “At the time, I didn’t know any women special agents, but watching the recruits train, I thought, if they can do it, I can do it!” she recalled. Jennifer attended an all-women’s college with an emphasis on promoting women in non-traditional roles.
After college, Jennifer was a teacher before becoming an FBI agent. Initially, she handled civil rights violations in D.C., but her FBI career has taken her all over the world, where she has investigated human trafficking and public corruption, among other job responsibilities.
Jennifer now serves as the Norfolk Division’s Applicant Coordinator and Recruiter and uses her current position to recruit at every opportunity. “We are looking for professionals who have substantial life experience and are able to make decisions quickly,” she noted. “There are significant consequences if bad decisions are made. We want a diverse group of applicants with experience and maturity and not only those with a degree in criminal justice.”
In a physically demanding position which requires her to carry a weapon at all times, Jennifer knows this career has changed her and her lifestyle. But she wouldn’t think twice about recommending it to other women who dream of becoming an FBI agent. “There were definitely times when I was the only female on the squad, but as a female agent in the bureau, I’ve never felt that I’ve been treated differently,” she said. “Drive, passion, and a strong work ethic will get you far.”
She now has the opportunity to help people achieve their bureau dreams in her recruitment position and is seeing a dynamic shift in the number of women agents. “The last class at the academy had three diverse females from Norfolk amongst its ranks,” she said. “We’re recruiting at a higher level here in Hampton Roads and recruit pretty heavily from the military and local law enforcement.”
As she looks at her legacy of service, she thinks of her own daughter. “I am really proud that I can be a role model for mothers and daughters. My daughter is 10, and she sees an FBI agent on television and knows that’s what her mom does,” Jennifer said. “It’s not uncommon for her to see me packing her lunch while wearing my badge. Now it’s my turn to leave this a better organization and recruit those who know this is a calling for them.”
“When everyone is running for the exits, you’re the one who stays,” Jennifer continued. “We want the people who wouldn’t think twice about it.”
Special Agent Keysha Bailey
“Never a Wrong Time for Starting Over”
For Special Agent Keysha Bailey, law enforcement runs in the family. With a brother and cousin in law enforcement, she watched the physical training and determination required by their careers, and a flame of passion was fanned. “I just always knew one day I’d be a Special Agent in the FBI,” said Keysha. “I wanted to be working at the most elite level of law enforcement.” Today Keysha is a Special Agent, after 14 years spent pursuing a career in higher education.
Keysha represents the modern FBI recruit candidate, one with life experience, maturity, and a passion and calling for service. After graduating from college, Keysha worked in higher education administration. Even while pursuing her career, she never lost sight of her FBI dreams and worked diligently on her physical fitness.
“I had been training for years to meet the physical requirements of the academy,” she said. This involved early morning runs, cross-training, and weight lifting. She applied to the FBI for the first time in 2011. “I went through phase one, the initial written assessment, and did not pass,” she recalled. “I wasn’t deterred. I just knew it wasn’t my time yet.”
Keysha continued to work on her physical fitness and indulged her passion by watching as many crime shows as she could, a hobby she still has today. In 2016, on her 35th birthday Keysha knew it was time. “It was now or never. I knew I had to reapply,” she said. “I had reached the point in my career that I was no longer challenged, and I didn’t want to live with regret.”
The current age limit to apply is 37 unless a recruit comes in with veteran’s preference, in which case there is no age restriction. “I took the phase 1 assessment again and went to the phase 2 panel interview,” Keysha said. “Initially my mother was against it. She said, ‘You have a great job! You don’t know where you’re going to be assigned or what you’re getting into.’ But I knew it was what I wanted. One week after my 36th birthday, I got the phone call. I was starting the academy in January!”
Keysha has a background in accounting, which has served her well in her current assignment on the white collar, complex financial crimes unit. Even though she spends her days working on embezzlement and fraud investigations, she still unwinds with crime shows at home and credits watching them for helping her through her interrogation and interview training.
Recently she returned to her small Gloucester High School to talk about her career and told students there, “If this is your passion, don’t let it go. It’s possible that now is not the right time, but there will be a right time. Don’t let others deter you from your goals. Those that are meant to support you, will do so.”
Keyhsa believes that this career was in her DNA. “Women are meant to be in this field, just as much as men,” she said. “There’s never a wrong time to start over—just leap.”
Supervisory Special Agent Kristen Ashby
Investigating Terrorism, Drugs and Gangs
A team is only as good as its leader, and Supervisory Special Agent Kristen Ashby has devoted her life to leadership and service in the FBI. This career was her lifelong calling, and as supervisor of the Norfolk Division’s Counterintelligence program, Kristin has spent 25 years living her dream of being an FBI agent.
At age 16 Kristen attended a Police Explorers program in Washington, D.C. At the end of the program she told her family she would become an agent. “It was a calling and I knew I wanted to make myself as marketable as possible for the bureau,” Kristen said. “I had an aptitude for numbers and found something I loved in accounting.”
Agents with experience outside of law enforcement or criminal justice are crucial to the bureau. After working for a multi-national accounting firm and gaining life experience, Kristen applied to the FBI at the age of 24 and has used her accounting background to track the financial motivation in the crimes she has investigated. “You have to have background and experience to bring to the bureau, but you can come here from any walk of life,” she explained.
Over the years Kristen has worked many different federal violations from terrorism to drug and gang squads. She is particularly proud of the work she currently does in counterintelligence. “Despite the fact that we have a small office, we have a significant amount of work to do on counterintelligence,” Kristen said.
“We punch above our weight class and have handled historically significant espionage cases here. This office is really known for that, and we’re unique in the United States due to our region’s military assets,” continued Kristen. “It’s special to be protecting national security in this way.”
The Norfolk Field Office of the FBI opened a week after the United States entered WWII, specifically because of the national security assets in the region. The naval and shipyard assets, NATO, Jefferson Labs, and a NASA launch facility are all part of what makes this region a critical place for counterintelligence work, Kristen explained. She’s part of a 75-year legacy of protecting that mission.
“In 1995, when I was coming up through the academy, I was one of few females in my class, and there have been many instances when I’ve been the only female on the squad, but I’ve never felt limited in any way,” she said. “I was the only female on the joint terrorism task force, but a third of my squad now is female. For someone who wants to move up in the bureau, there is every opportunity for women here. One of only a few female SWAT operators in the whole bureau is here in Norfolk. If you can physically do the job, it is attainable for women.”
It is clear that Kristen is the kind of supervisor who lets her team shine. She repeatedly deflects attention away from her achievements, which are headline making, and defers to the work that her agents do. “For me to be able to be a part of supporting the work that our case agents do and moving national security investigations forward is a privilege,” she said. “All the hours and the travel and the work with our partners and other agencies is for the greater good, and I’m proud to be a part of making it possible for the team to do their job.”
Behind the scenes, these superwomen are quietly carrying out the vast mission of the FBI. They are humble and only believe they are serving out their calling, but these women have forged the way for others, ensuring that the next generation of agents carry this passion forward.
Kindra McDonald Greene is a poet, educator, and a writer. She teaches at The Muse Writers Center and lives, hikes, and bakes with her husband in the City of Mermaids. Visit www.kindramcdonald.com.