When you read the phrase “Secret Service,” I’m guessing a very stereotypical image comes to mind. A man dressed in a black suit, wearing a discreet earpiece and maybe sunglasses, and standing around looking very menacing. That’s how you know somebody really important is nearby. But it’s time to revise that image, because there are women in the Secret Service, too. In fact, President Obama just appointed the first female director of the agency.
Her name is Julia Pierson, and I’m guessing she feels pretty good right now. I mean, it’s a pretty big honor to have the President choose you to be in charge of protecting him, right? And since the Secret Service has been around since 1865, it’s about time the agency had a female director.
Pierson has a big job ahead of her – the duties of the Secret Service are more broad than you might think. It’s part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and in addition to protecting current and former presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates, and visiting heads of state, the Secret Service is also tasked with investigating the counterfeiting of U.S. currency and major fraud cases.
The Secret Service is also dealing with a terrible public image and internal issues after a 2012 prostitution scandal. During a trip of President Obama’s to Colombia, several Secret Service agents hired prostitutes and strippers while on the job. The agents involved were forced to resign.
Now it’s up to Julia Pierson to take the reins and figure out how to deal with all this. Yeah, she’s kind of important. Here are ten things you should know about her.
1. She started out as a cop. She served three years with the Orlando Police Department, and was one of the first female officers assigned to a beat.
2. She has a degree in criminal justice. She graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1981.
3. She worked at Disney World. Kind of surprising for someone whose life has been devoted to law enforcement, but hey, she’s from Orlando. During high school, Pierson worked at Disney World as a parking lot attendant, watercraft attendant, and costumed character in Disney parades.
4. She’s known quite a few presidents. Pierson served on the Presidential Protective Detail for President George H.W. Bush, and oversaw protective operations for presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
5. She was already the highest ranking woman in the Secret Service before her promotion. From 2008 to the time of her appointment as director, Pierson served as Chief of Staff and Assistant Director of the Office of Human Resources and Training to outgoing Secret Service director Mark Sullivan.
6. She’s helping make the Secret Service more modern. Before her appointment to director, Pierson oversaw a $250 million project to update the agency’s communications and data management networks.
7. She’s still a minority in the agency. Though the first female agents were accepted into the Secret Service in the 1970s, currently only about 10% of agents are women.
8. She’s decorated. Pierson won the Presidential Meritorious Executive Award in 2008 for excellence in performance and management throughout her career.
9. She is facing a seriously male dominated culture. The 2012 prostitution scandal exposed a boys’ club attitude common among Secret Service agents, and the agency has come under fire as more details of the event have come to light. The attitude of many male agents became known as “wheels up, rings off,” meaning that they felt entitled to do whatever (or whoever) they wanted when traveling with the president.
10. She’s in charge of about 3,500 agents. The Secret Service is known as a “small” law enforcement agency, but still, being in charge of 3,500 people is no joke. Not to mention the fact that it’s your job to keep the president safe.
Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.