Becoming an Agent
An Inside Look at What It Takes
Update in 2023: New agent training is now 16 weeks long.
Part 3: Preparing for the Field
It’s 8 a.m. on a Monday, and new agent trainees are gearing up to make an arrest at Hogan’s Alley. Their subject: a wanted fugitive suspected of extortion and money laundering.
As trainees don tactical vests and holster side arms, team leaders brief their squads on a plan to safely enter the home of a middle-aged man who is considered armed and dangerous.
The trainees break off into their teams and head toward a house just outside of town. Tensions are high as a group of students position themselves just outside the front door with shields in hand. A lead agent knocks loudly and yells, “FBI, we have a search warrant, open the door!”—but the suspect doesn’t answer. The agents have no choice but to make a breach.
With flashlights out and weapons drawn, the suspect is safely rooted out, handcuffed, and brought into custody.
This type of exercise is one of many that new agents face while learning tactical and law enforcement skills during the FBI’s Basic Field Training Course at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Whether it’s arresting fugitives or preventing terrorist attacks, Academy instructors have made each scenario as realistic as possible.
About This Series
Follow a class of trainees as they spend more than 20 weeks at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, where they’ll learn what it takes to become a special agent.
The law enforcement skills portion of the curriculum at the FBI Academy—which includes realistic exercises and intense tactical training—is very demanding and replicates what agents might see in the field.
“We want to replicate what people are going to see in the field,” says M.A. Myers, a section chief at the FBI’s Training Division. “The scenarios we’ve developed are all based on real agent cases. So an exercise in Hogan’s Alley is going to closely mirror what our instructors have seen during their own experiences.”
Since 1987, the training town has immersed new agents in a variety of intense and lifelike situations that challenge them to make the right call—with the help of actors playing criminals, victims, and bystanders.
“Hogan’s Alley is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where we get to experience what things could really look like out there,” says Sunny, a new agent trainee.
New agents are taught the latest tactical techniques and are immersed in realistic scenarios in Hogan’s Alley, the mock town and training facility at the FBI Academy.
“Hogan’s Alley is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where we get to experience what things could really look like out there.”
Sunny, new agent trainee, FBI Academy
Just behind Hogan’s Alley, trainees are speeding around a 1.1-mile road track and weaving their cars around orange cones on the precision obstacle course. An instructor is closely watching the maneuvers as new agents push their way to the finish. The driving techniques learned at the Academy’s Tactical Emergency Vehicle Operations Center, or TEVOC, prepare agents to handle a variety of dangerous situations like high-speed chases and reversing out of alleyways under fire.
A Virtual Ride: Get Behind the Wheel
Take a virtual ride in this 360-degree video shot on the FBI Academy’s precision obstacle course as an instructor explains what types of maneuvers new agents are tested on behind the wheel. Best viewed on laptop or desktop.
Trainees also spend hundreds of hours across the Academy campus on the range, shooting countless rounds of ammunition. New agents need to protect innocent lives and may be faced with dangerous encounters in the line of duty, so it’s necessary to become proficient with a variety of firearms, including the pistol, shotgun, and carbine.
“One of the most important things that we stress at the Academy is firearms training. We spend a lot of time with trainees teaching them how to handle firearms safely and to shoot accurately,” said Myers. Trainees must qualify in a series of tests to graduate.
New agents learn to shoot a pistol, shotgun, and carbine at the FBI Academy. Rhys Williams, a special agent and instructor with the Firearms Training Unit, explains how and why new agent trainees achieve proficiency with their weapons during their time at Quantico.
Just a few blocks from the indoor range sits a large field house. Inside the building, a sea of blue exercise mats line the floor, along with fake padded furniture and a partial replica of a commercial airplane—items used by instructors to teach close-quarter defensive tactics like boxing, grappling, disarming, and searching.
In one of the drills, a subject (actually another trainee) refuses to stand up from his desk and be handcuffed, forcing agents to wrestle him to the ground. As they bump up against the padded furniture, it takes two agents to subdue their subject. It’s all over in a matter of seconds, but the realistic exercise simulates what could happen when criminals turn violent during an arrest.
For those students without any previous law enforcement or military experience, the tactical training can be one of the most challenging aspects of their time at the Academy. They may have never thrown a punch, shot a weapon, or driven a car at high speeds. But to ensure that agents can safely do their jobs, instructors must push every trainee to their limits
“When we first got into the tactical training scenarios, it was a steep learning curve,” comments David, a new agent trainee. “You really get to see how difficult it is to learn the special agent tradecraft.”
Orders Night—one of the most highly anticipated events of the FBI’s Basic Field Training Course—is when new agents and intelligence analysts find out where they’re going to start their careers.
Prior to the evening, students are asked to complete a “wish list” of field offices where they’d preferred to be assigned. While some receive their top choices, others are sent to areas that are a complete surprise. There are no appeals.
Throughout the night, each trainee stands up in front of the class, opens their envelope, and shares the result. Before doing so, they discuss their top selections. There is a lot of laughter—and nervous excitement.
“Orders Night is a longstanding tradition at the Academy that has not changed over the decades,” says M.A. Myers of the Training Division. “The joke is that we have someone throw darts at a map and that’s how we pick where trainees go, but the reality is that we put people where they’re needed most. Wherever the agents and analysts end up—whether in sunny Miami or chilly Anchorage—it’s their job to convince their families that it’s the best place on earth.”