Celebrating Women Special Agents: Brenda H. (2012)

Brenda spent 14 years in New York as a street agent. After responding on 9/11, she decided to move into management “to add to that fight.” Now with 24 years in the Bureau, she has held many leadership positions, including special agent in charge of counterterrorism at the Washington Field Office.

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Five years in the Bureau, I put in for the Hostage Rescue Team, full well knowing they had not had a female complete the tryouts, not certainly then, I guess, be accepted.

So I went down there and I imagine I turned some heads. Because I showed up, all five-foot-one of me. But I am very proud to say that I completed the two weeks. I wasn’t selected to the team, but completed the two weeks—first female, as a matter of fact, a little sad for me, the only female to do that even still, that has completed the two week HRT tryouts.

I was driven by the challenge. So it never occurred to me, to be honest with you. I think back on this now, so many years later, the wherewithal, honestly, that I had to show up as a female at HRT—and I can remember showing up on that Sunday, I showed up in a little suit. And I think there were 48 of us. And the lone female standing in the room. Everybody extremely nervous. And it didn’t even occur to me that I was a female and that I was being questioned because I was a female. It just never even occurred to me.

They got us up at 3 o’clock the next morning and they ran us through the drills, and all I focused on was, you know, give it my best, and the challenge of it. And, you know, each day I survived. And there were certainly guys peeling off. It just wasn’t me. I didn’t get hurt and, yeah, I made it. I imagine probably surprised a few people.

Boxing, I knew that we were going to box. So I grabbed a couple of my guys up in New York and they hit me. We put on the gloves and the helmet and they, like, I need to know what it feels like to be hit. So let’s go at it here, and I have no idea what I’m doing but let’s box, because I know we’re going to box down there.

So, needless to say I got down there and I saw some stars, right. I survived it. And then they had a wrestling. You had to wrestle. And I was rated as the number-two wrestler out of 48 men, believe it or not. So at the end of it, although I know I really pushed their concept of what it means to be HRT, my exit interview I will tell you I was told by the team leader that I had more head, heart, and guts than anybody on there.

I was in New York for 14 years. As a matter of fact worked myself up to a senior—I worked all violent crime, a couple of different squads, fugitives for a number of years, crimes against children, civil rights, assaulting fellow officers, that kind of stuff. And then I was there 9/11.

And that really became a pivotal moment for me, because I was 14 years in as a street agent. I had not really considered management, but it was clear to me there was a whole different fight that was just brought to us. And I wanted to be part of it. And at 14 years in the Bureau I thought management was the way for me to add to that fight.

I’m 24 years in the Bureau now. I cracked the ceiling. I have played a big part in cracking the ceiling and showing that there are many things that a female equally can do that a guy can do. There’s strengths and weaknesses that we all bring. And I believe that I’ve shown a lot of strengths from a female’s perspective that have served me well.

In the last 10 years I’ve logged six or more management positions. And I have moved through it. But I still don’t see myself as doing it as a female. Even currently as an SAC of counterterrorism at the Washington Field Office I don’t—I’ve just never seen myself as a female first. It’s just a job and I happen to be a female.

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