Contributed by Mike Pettry
After graduating from law school I pursued one of my dreams of working as a ski instructor at a resort in Colorado. I waited in Cincinnati for the Ohio Bar results and, after getting the great news from Jay Clark in an early morning phone call that I had passed, set about preparing for my adventure in the mountains. After the swearing-in ceremony in Columbus I packed up and headed to Keystone Resort. I had a wonderful season in the mountains and loved it so much I eventually obtained my license to practice in Colorado. I have not yet used it but am keeping it in the event I decide to head back when I retire from the FBI.
A few weeks after returning to Ohio from Colorado I received yet another “good news” phone call from Jay, who told me he had learned that the Clermont County Prosecutor’s Office had an immediate opening in its County Court (now Municipal Court) division. Classmates Darrell Hawkins and Todd Stoffel, who also served as assistant prosecutors in the office, had evidently given me decent references as I was hired the day following the interview. It was great to work alongside Todd and Darrell during my seven years in the office. (I had only planned on staying there for two years but loved the office and work.) A year or so after joining the prosecutor’s office I met my future wife, Karen, through friends.
After handling misdemeanor criminal and traffic cases for about two years I moved over to the felony trial division where I handled a full range of cases, from drug trafficking to homicides. During this period I also taught pre-law courses on a part-time basis at Thomas More College and served as the attorney-advisor to the college’s mock trial program.
While serving as an assistant prosecutor I worked with several FBI Agents on joint investigations and decided I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming an Agent. I had some doubts about pursuing this opportunity due to my age (32), and the fact that I was still enjoying my work at the prosecutor’s office. Moreover, during the hiring process my wife and I learned we were expecting our first child. However, my wife, colleagues, and friends were very supportive of my decision to head to the FBI so I wrapped up my career in Clermont County on a Friday afternoon in June 1997 and two days later reported to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, to begin the training program for Special Agents.
The good news is that not only did I complete the training program, but I made it back to Cincinnati with just a few hours to spare for the birth of my son, Ryan. Unfortunately, I had to head back to Quantico after just a few days at home but he and Karen were able to join me at Quantico for my graduation a month later.
When I joined the FBI I knew that the chances of going back to Cincinnati were slim, but I was hoping we would be assigned to an office that offered a good quality of life for a young family. Although we knew little of Kansas City when I received my orders, it proved to be a wonderful place to live and work. Karen continued with her career as a CPA and kept things on track at home while I began my career as a “Street Agent.” Our daughter, Anna, was born in 1999 while we were living in Lenexa, Kansas.
While assigned to the Kansas City Field Office I worked on organized crime and national security squads, and also served as the office’s Chief Division Counsel. In that capacity I provided legal and policy guidance to division personnel and management on a wide range of issues. Those years proved to be very challenging as I was the sole in-house attorney for a division that covered two-thirds of Missouri and all of Kansas. (Most offices now have at least two in-house attorneys.)
In 2007, because of my interest in the FBI’s international work, I joined the FBI’s Global Initiatives Unit, which is based at the FBI’s data center in West Virginia. The unit’s mission is to facilitate the acquisition and exchange of biographical and biometric data relating to terrorists and transnational criminals with foreign partners. As head of the team that covered Latin America I spent considerable time deployed to South America, Central America, and Mexico. I also traveled to other countries as needed, including Ukraine, Morocco, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Abu Dhabi.
Since my days as a New Agent Trainee one of my professional goals was to go back to Quantico to serve as a legal instructor. When the position opened up in 2009 I applied and was fortunate to have been selected. Karen, the kids, and I moved into our home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on the same day as one of the two “blizzards” the Mid-Atlantic Region saw that winter.
As a member of the Legal Instruction Unit I provide instruction to New Agents, personnel from FBI Headquarters, and police officers from around the globe. I have also been fortunate to have been able to continue pursuing my interests in working with foreign police agencies, and over the last several years have traveled to Kosovo, Italy, Brazil, and Ghana to provide legal instruction. Earlier this year my family joined me on one of my trips to Siracusa, Italy.
My family loves living in Virginia and we do our best to explore the many historic, cultural, and natural points-of-interest the Mid-Atlantic Region has to offer. Because of the great universities in Virginia we are inclined to stay here until I retire, unless, of course, the Rockies again lure me out West in which case I will “dust off” my Colorado license and see what opportunities may be available there.