Each year, Homeland Security Today honors shining stars in the community who are making their own unique, invaluable contributions to advance the mission of keeping America safer from myriad threats. Their strong commitment to mission touches every part of their work, from day-to-day operations to special projects and work in the community.
Capacine Abdul-Aziz, Director, Land Border Integration Division, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Ms. Capacine Abdul-Aziz has served as Director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Land Border Integration (LBI) Division since 2020. Under Ms. Abdul-Aziz’s leadership, CBP has completed a multi-year technology modernization program that replaced an obsolete License Plate Reader (LPR) solution with a modern solution. Since its implementation, the LPR solution has improved performance, reliability, security, and reduced Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of this mission critical system used to support CBP operations. The scope and scale of this modernization program, ambitiously launched during the pandemic, required an extraordinary level of communication, collaboration, and coordination with multiple stakeholders, including more than 100 ports of entry and US Border Patrol checkpoints nationwide. Ms. Abdul-Aziz established relationships with mission partners to prioritize the deployment of over 725 modernized systems to maximize impact and minimize disruptions to port operations. Ms. Abdul-Aziz accelerated the pace of the technology modernization by directing support organizations acquire an inventory of components that were scarce due to pandemic supply chain disruptions.
The positive mission outcomes achieved under Ms. Abdul-Aziz’s leadership have been truly remarkable. The LPR read rates – a key system performance metric – significantly increased and now exceeds the nationwide SLA operational requirement. System availability and reliability metrics also improved. Operations and Maintenance (O&M) processes were streamlined to maintain solution reliability and performance.
Calvin C. Coleman, Branch Chief, Office of Information and Technology, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Branch Chief Calvin C. Coleman stands as a pillar of dedication at the CBP Office of Information and Technology (OIT)’s Integrated Logistics Division (ILD). With a tenure spanning over twenty-six years, Mr. Coleman has been a staunch advocate and supporter of the Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) technologies. His profound understanding of logistics and NII technology sustenance has been pivotal in fortifying the U.S. Customs Service and Customs and Border Protection’s mission to shield our borders.
Mr. Coleman’s exemplary grasp of the Department of Homeland Security’s Integrated Logistics Support (DHS ILS) ensures that assets are managed efficiently, configurations are streamlined, and maintenance planning is top-notch. As a result, CBP consistently meets and often surpasses its objectives. He’s overseen the operations of the CBP NII Depot in Lorton, Virginia, an essential hub offering round-the-clock support and primary repair services for all NII handheld equipment.
Beyond his technical prowess, Mr. Coleman’s dedication shines through as he’s committed countless hours, often working late into the night, supporting multiple National Special Events in the National Capital Area. His collaborative spirit is evident in his weekly interactions with multiple DHS offices. Such engagements, ranging from partnerships with the Office of Field Operations to the U.S. Border Patrol, have cemented success across several programs, ensuring optimal safety technologies for both CBP Officers and U.S. Border Patrol Agents.
Captain Miriam Foxx, Chula Vista California Police Department
Captain Miriam Foxx of the Chula Vista PD, a retired Navy Lieutenant, is at the forefront of redefining police response strategies. Leading the Investigative Division, she oversees the nation’s inaugural Drone as a First Responder Program (DFR). This game-changing initiative swiftly deploys drones during 911 emergencies, often arriving ahead of ground units. Under her guidance, the nationwide DFR Working Group has blossomed, with 48 similar programs now active globally. As a member of the Executive Board of the California Peace Officers Association, Foxx emphasizes DFR’s crucial role in enhancing homeland security. With over 17,000 missions flown, her dedication to achieving mission success through innovative solutions like DFR signals a promising evolution for police departments everywhere.
Adam Jacoff, Robotics Research Engineer, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce
Adam Jacoff has been a pivotal figure in advancing public safety and homeland security through his leadership in developing the Standards Test Methods for Response Robots. His work is at the forefront of evaluating and enhancing the proficiency of robotic technology in critical air, land, and sea operations. By pioneering methods that allow for the effective use of drones, Adam’s efforts have been instrumental in safeguarding human lives by deploying robotic counterparts in hazardous situations.
These standardized procedures have not only been embraced across the United States but have also gained international traction, influencing drone utilization and training protocols in the UK, France, Japan, Canada, and various South American countries. With a collaborative approach, Adam has engaged extensively with stakeholders from the public safety and homeland security sectors, ensuring the widespread impact and relevance of these standards. The upcoming groundbreaking ceremony for the new NIST Robotics Testing Facility is a testament to the success and future potential of Adam’s work in transforming the landscape of response robotics.
John (Neal) Latta, Assistant Administrator, Enrollment Services and Vetting Programs, Operations Support, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
With a career spanning a quarter-century, John (Neal) Latta stands as an embodiment of dedication, versatility, and efficacy within the homeland security sector. Whether integrating into new teams or spearheading groundbreaking projects, Neal’s commitment to the nation’s safety is unerring. He was instrumental during the foundational stages of the US-VISIT program, setting the gold standard for biometric technical and personnel capacities. Neal’s expertise further shone in his pivotal roles in the DHS Screening Coordination Office and his contributions to the Terrorist Screening Center and the National Counterterrorism Center, enhancing the nation’s watchlisting and screening capabilities.
Now, as TSA’s Assistant Administrator for Enrollment Services and Vetting Programs, Neal’s influence is more palpable than ever. His relentless pursuit of innovation has ushered in improvements for numerous programs, including TSA PreCheck, TWIC, HAZMAT, and international flight students. Esteemed across various interagency quarters, Neal is synonymous with problem-solving, collaboration, and addressing immediate needs with efficiency. In the ever-evolving landscape of homeland security, John (Neal) Latta remains a beacon of excellence.
Captain Michael Leo, Special Operations Command Robotics, New York City Fire Department
Captain Michael Leo of the FDNY stands at the vanguard of robotics innovation in emergency response. With an unparalleled commitment, he has architected a comprehensive robotics program encompassing air, land, and marine platforms, earning international acclaim. Michael’s work is a linchpin in enhancing homeland security and public safety, as he adeptly deploys cutting-edge technologies tailored to specific emergencies.
In addition to his pivotal role in the FDNY, Michael serves with distinction on the FEMA NY USAR Task Force 1 and holds the esteemed position of Fire Commissioner for Islip, NY. As a trailblazer, he played an essential role in forging one of the world’s pioneering staffed robotics teams. A seasoned speaker, Michael has shared his profound expertise – spanning firefighting, hazmat, building collapses, disaster response, and homeland security – with global audiences, continuously pushing the envelope in the realm of emergency response robotics
Dr. David Mussington, Executive Assistant Director, Infrastructure Security, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
For his relentless commitment to fortifying our nation against security threats, Dr. David Mussington is an exemplary nominee for the Mission Award. As Chief of Corporate Security at AMTRAK, he undertook the immense responsibility of managing risk across the entire National Passenger Rail System. His dedication further shone through in pivotal roles, such as the Senior Advisor Cyber Policy in the Pentagon and as the Director on the White House National Security Staff for Transportation security policy.
Always forward-thinking, Dr. Mussington’s vision for security extends beyond present concerns to anticipate emerging threats, a foresight not always evident in today’s government or industry. His global outlook is enriched by his lifetime membership with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Additionally, his academic tenure as a Center Director at the University of Maryland has added depth to his comprehensive understanding of national security. Now serving in DHS/CISA, Dr. Mussington’s unwavering focus on the nation’s safety and security exemplifies the ideals and expertise our country values in its national security professionals.
LePhonzo Pearson, Chief, Cyber Intel & Threat Emulation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
LePhonzo Pearson, a stalwart in the cybersecurity domain of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has made significant strides in fortifying national cyber defenses. As a dedicated professional at ICE’s Information Assurance Division, Pearson was instrumental in initiating the Cybersecurity Services Provider (CSP) program and pioneering the adoption of CISA’s High Value Asset (HVA) Assessment Evaluation and Standardization (AES) program. Not just content with policy formulation, he’s been a fervent advocate for hands-on penetration testing and red teaming strategies.
From 2019 onwards, Pearson’s influence rippled across federal agencies. He became a pivotal member of the CSP certification and audit team, mentoring and facilitating over a dozen agencies to attain their CSP Center of Excellence certifications. This effort has considerably amplified the security robustness of federal data, ensuring a more protected environment for U.S. citizens’ information. Through his endeavors, he has filled dual roles: an innovative leader at ICE and a mentor for inter-agency peers, aiming to elevate the nation’s cyber posture. His team’s distinction of being the first AES HVA certified team outside of CISA further attests to his pioneering efforts.
Pearson’s leadership resonates with patience, tenacity, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. He has helmed high-performing teams, focusing on mission-critical vulnerabilities and collaboratively engaging with stakeholders. With eyes set on the future, he’s expanding his outreach to the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Intelligence Community (IC), continuing to drive innovative and proactive cybersecurity strategies on a national scale.
Shakeeta M. Purdie, Division Director, Administrative Services Division, Technology and Innovation Directorate, Federal Protective Service
Shakeeta M. Purdie, Division Director of the Administrative Services Division (ASD) within the Federal Protective Service (FPS), leads with vision and clarity in a compact agency with vast responsibilities. Overseeing 1,500 dedicated professionals, the FPS safeguards a staggering 9,500 Federal facilities, ensuring daily safety for over 1.4 million individuals. Ms. Purdie’s recent elevation to this role has put her at the forefront of FPS vehicle fleet management, construction operations, and environmental compliance programs.
In the past year, her foresight shone especially bright. Ms. Purdie championed the Executive Order 13963-driven DHS Fleet electrification initiative, positioning FPS at the heart of this pivotal transformation. Given the agency’s distributed nationwide structure, it became the ideal testing ground for understanding electric vehicle (EV) challenges. Guiding discussions across DHS and other governmental bodies, Ms. Purdie’s leadership was central in introducing the first Law Enforcement EV to the FPS. She meticulously managed its assessment, gathering invaluable feedback from various regions, and played a crucial role in the final report that now shapes future DHS EV procurement for Law Enforcement.
In addition to these electrification strides, Ms. Purdie’s astute managerial skills saw her successfully navigate challenges, including FPS’s involvement in the GSA Federal Law Enforcement Vehicle Equipment Standardization program and the execution of space-saving strategies that promise substantial annual savings. In essence, Ms. Purdie’s decisive actions and commitment reverberate throughout FPS daily, making her an invaluable asset in furthering DHS’s pioneering initiatives.
Amy Reedy, Information Technology Manager, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
As the Director of the Technology Solutions Division within the Transportation Security Administration’s Office of Information Technology, Amy Reedy holds the reins of critical systems ensuring top-tier safety and security at U.S. transportation hubs. A visionary leader, Amy has been instrumental in refining and evolving pivotal programs like Secure Flight and Vetting & Credentialing Systems. Her knack for innovation is evident, having introduced SAFe agile processes and open-source technologies, notably cutting down manual efforts in the Secure Flight program by over 1,300 hours per Product Increment.
Under her direction, the TSA consistently vets over 2 million travelers daily, managing 15 million active TSA PreCheck participants. Amy’s commitment to the traveler’s convenience shines through her initiative to incorporate new enrollment providers like Telos and, soon, CLEAR. Handling programs like Secure Flight, which pre-screens up to 2 million passengers daily, and Vetting & Credentialing Systems, a consolidated platform for assessing security threats across various transportation roles, Amy’s leadership is pivotal in ensuring national security without compromising efficiency. As she continues to innovate and modernize TSA’s capabilities, travelers can be assured of heightened security and streamlined processes.
Ariana Roddini, Associate Director, Training Operations, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The Federal Protective Service’s Training and Professional Development directorate proudly nominates Ariana Roddini from FLETC for the esteemed Homeland Security Today Mission Award. Ariana’s unmatched dedication, innovative approach, and aptitude for fostering collaboration have greatly benefited the agency.
Among her notable accomplishments, Ariana played a pivotal role in the completion of the award-winning National Training Academy building. Her keen attention to detail, proactive attitude, and steadfast commitment were essential in overcoming challenges and coordinating various stakeholders. Additionally, her advocacy led to a significant increase in Inspector Training classes for FY24, directly contributing to key DHS goals such as Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security Threats, and Strengthening Preparedness and Resilience. Outside her primary duties, Ariana has selflessly offered her expertise on interview panels, aiding in the selection of top candidates and furthering the organization’s success.
In essence, Ariana’s leadership, innovation, and excellence have solidified the invaluable partnership between FLETC and FPS, making her an exemplary nominee for the Homeland Security Today Mission Award.
Kolby Shields, Federal Security Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Kolby Shields is a testament to unwavering commitment to public safety and service. As the Security Manager for the RTP Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Kolby has embodied the agency’s core values: humanitarianism, honesty, and public service. His dedication goes beyond his role at EPA. Kolby was among the pioneering Public Sector Field Liaison Officers at the North Carolina Information Sharing and Analysis Center (NC ISAAC). There, he collaborates with a vast network, from local law enforcement to federal agencies, ensuring prompt sharing of critical security and criminal intel.
Kolby’s initiatives are not just limited to information sharing. He has enhanced the EPA’s security infrastructure by introducing training programs like the Active Shooter course in collaboration with the Duke University Trauma Center, a program which trained nearly 500 EPA members. Furthermore, under his guidance, the EPA site in North Carolina was equipped with 25 ‘Stop the Bleed’ stations. His meticulous approach to safety led him to author the comprehensive Standard Operating Procedure for the Local Crisis Assessment and Management Team (LCMAT), now adopted as the team’s primary response resource. Beyond his demanding role with the EPA, Kolby’s drive to bolster security and preparedness within his community shines. Colleagues consistently laud his passion and his ability to inspire. His vast skillset, combined with his unwavering dedication, makes Kolby Shields an outstanding nominee for the Homeland Security Today Holliday Hero’s Mission award.
Dr. Mitchell Simmons, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Program Director, Anthony G. Oettinger School of Science and Technology Intelligence, National Intelligence University
A formidable force in the field of intelligence and infrastructure vulnerability assessment, Dr. Mitchell Simmons has consistently showcased excellence in both education and practical applications. Serving as the Associate Dean, Program Director, and the Course Director for the elective “MST 658 Infrastructure Vulnerability Assessment” at NIU, Dr. Simmons has successfully taught this course 19 times over nearly a decade, educating over 45 Intelligence Community professionals annually. This course, which he’s propelled to immense popularity, equips students with both defensive and offensive perspectives on infrastructure vulnerability. His teaching style, enriched by insights from seasoned National Security Council professionals and on-ground assessors like Mr. Charles Deel, offers students a holistic understanding of infrastructure executive orders and real-world assessments.
Beyond his teaching credentials, Dr. Simmons’s contributions to national security are unparalleled. His involvement in campaigns such as OSW, ONW, OEF, and OIF has led to the creation of over 300+ critical vulnerability assessment products, underpinning our battlefield strategies. His authorship includes the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Manual, a definitive guide for on-ground infrastructure assessment, and co-authorship of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Battle Damage Assessment Handbook, pivotal to the Department of Defense. Tapping into both sides of the infrastructure spectrum, Dr. Simmons’s innovative approach towards infrastructure disaster survival is a monumental addition to homeland security.
In a second, equally laudable nomination, Dr. Mitch Simmons emerges as the bedrock of NIU’s School of Science and Technology Intelligence. While often operating behind the scenes, his impact is undeniable. Modernizing logistics, scheduling classes, and ensuring the seamless progress of a demanding graduate program, Dr. Simmons juggles these responsibilities with finesse. A well-published national security scholar himself, his presence at the school has been indispensable in achieving its mission. Dr. Simmons’s blend of expertise, dedication, and innovation undeniably places him at the forefront of intelligence education and application.
Congratulations to all!