There’s something special about Wilmington, North Carolina. The city of approximately 120,000 is a stone’s throw away from two of the most well-known beach destinations in the Tarheel State - Carolina to the south and Wrightsville to the east.
Its picturesque historic downtown, which dates back to the 1700s, has been the backdrop for many notable television shows and movies, including Dawson’s Creek, Sleepy Hollow and Iron Man 3, among others.
For those who call it home, including personnel from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Wilmington field office, the area’s southern charm provides the perfect combination of being a great place to live and work.
“We’re lucky to be here and I think every agent who’s here realizes it,” said HSI Wilmington Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) Jay Ingersoll. “There are some offices where you show up and it’s like ‘well, I’m here because this is where I got the job and they told me I had to work.’ In Wilmington, there is a feeling of ‘we’re blessed to be here.’ Everyone feels it.”
The “everyone” is the seven special agents, one computer forensic analyst and one mission support specialist that make up the HSI Wilmington office. Co-located with two Enforcement and Removal Operations officers, HSI Wilmington’s area of responsibility (AOR) spreads across a large land mass east of Interstate 95 that includes 26 counties from Virginia to South Carolina.
Much like their colleagues in other remote offices, in Wilmington, special agents are prepared to handle anything that comes across their desks. According to Ingersoll, the office does its most work investigating child exploitation, followed by financial crimes. Being a small office, special agents are able to pick a programmatic area they like and concentrate on it. The good part is special agents have the freedom to specialize in certain areas. The bad part is, unlike at larger field offices, there’s no other group doing the same thing.
“As a small group, we all have to cover and look out for each other, so we have to be well-versed in everything,” Ingersoll said. “Every person specializes in a programmatic area, but everyone has to be familiar with it because we’re required to help when needed. That brings about a family atmosphere.”
It’s that family atmosphere that makes HSI Wilmington thrive. Whether it’s helping each other on the long six-hour drives across the AOR to a court date or operation, or assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other federal and local law enforcement partners to secure the nearby ports, HSI Wilmington personnel possess a wealth of knowledge key to supporting the agency’s mission.
Wilmington has become home for Ingersoll and others who didn’t start their careers there, but transferred in and have come to love it. The special agents are very seasoned, with all but one being on the back side of their respective careers. From a manager’s perspective, having an experienced team gives Ingersoll the trust to know that his team is doing the right thing and doing what they’re supposed to do. They’ve proven over time through experience that they know what to do.
“Each one of these guys here are skilled and they know their job. That’s the nice part,” Ingersoll said “When we go out to execute a search warrant, we go with a lot less personnel than you would if you were in a larger SAC office, but our guys show up, know their job and they know what to do.”