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Local Border Patrol Agents present to SLHS health classes

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Matthew Wills didn’t shy away from making a point about the dangers of drug smuggling.

Wills, along with Agents Yajayra Franco and Alfredo Prieto, spent two days presenting to Therese Volmer’s health classes at San Luis High School. And while they focused on a variety of topics, the opening sentiment was arguably the most significant.

“We think it’s important to tell the kids the truth so they know what’s going on and what’s happening out there,” Wills said after wrapping up on Jan. 17.

The presentation is part of an education program called ‘Operation Detour’ which details the harsh realities associated with smuggling drugs. Wills and his colleagues discussed everything from the legal penalties to sharing poignant examples of how involvement with drug cartels can have dire consequences for individuals and their families.

“It made me realize the bad things that can happen if you smuggle drugs,” SLHS student Sebastian Bustamante said.

Wills, who has been with the agency for eight years and is currently serving as the Border Community Liaison, added: “We always tell these kids, if someone’s giving you advice you’ve got to take it. You’ve got to listen twice as much as you speak. So, if they’re willing to take our advice about ‘Operation Detour’ and some of that life advice that we give them that’s all that really matters to us.”

Some of that advice included reminding students to be careful who they associate with because 90 percent of the time, according to Prieto, it’s a close friend who “recruits” you into the drug trade.

“Being this close to the border, they need to understand the consequences and that the Border Patrol is not their enemy,” Volmer said when asked why she invited the Border Patrol to present in her class. “They do a lot of good. I run into them all the time when I’m out riding my horses and I talk to them and I’ve seen them help people who are thirsty or lost. They are really good with the community and help with the community.”

Wills, Prieto, who is a Kofa High School graduate, and Franco, who graduated from Gila Ridge High School, were also adamant that students take education and their future seriously.

“It really made me think about my future and the importance of my education,” SLHS student Sophia Landeros said. “And it shows that we should take advantage of those opportunities [presenters tell us about].”

In this case, those opportunities include joining the Customs & Border Patrol Explorers, a program designed to build character, good citizenship and fitness for men and women ages 14 through 21 and serve as a bridge to a career in the agency.

“We try to hit every school we can,” Wills said. “We have a big area that we work with, so the more we can get out of the office and talk to these kids, the better. If they want us here five days a week, we’ll be here five days a week. A lot of things we have scheduled, the teachers ask us to come because they’ve heard good things about what we do and what the border community liaisons do.”

Volmer, who has taught at San Luis for six years and has also worked at Kofa and Cibola, said the Border Patrol presentations have generated interest in a potential career pathway. “We’ve had a lot who want to do the [Border Patrol Explorer Program] and they are getting a lot of them interested in being in the Explorers.”

The U.S. Border Patrol has nearby Explorer posts in Yuma as well as Welton. To learn more about the Customs & Border Patrol Explorer Program please visit: https://www.cbp.gov/careers/outreach-programs/youth/explorer-program  

Eric Patten
epatten@yumaunion.org