On Sept. 30, Joseph “Woody” Wright, the last of the original employees of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), retired from service.
Wright’s career in law enforcement began in the 1970s. According to a Daily Press article from Nov. 9, 2011, “He began his career in 1970 as a part-time jailor/dispatcher for the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office in Truth or Consequences, served in the United States Air Force as a law enforcement specialist/narcotic detector dog handler, and was a patrol officer/investigator with the Breese Police Department in Illinois.”
Since then, he has served as chief of administration, deputy assistant director, assistant director, site director, and director of training, in no particular order, and played instrumental roles in the development of the facilities and programs offered at FLETC Artesia.
His relationship with FLETC began in 1988 when he collaborated with community leaders, including former Mayor Ernest Thompson, to facilitate the sale of Artesia Christian College to the federal government for the location of a training center. Wright’s employment at the FLETC started the following year on Oct. 1, 1989, when he became the first instructor to report to the FLETC Artesia as an instructor of physical techniques, such as defensive tactics and crime scene processing, to students of the Department of Justice.
When the training center opened in October of 1989, there were only “five permanent buildings, there were no paved streets, there was no fence line around the campus and currently on the firing ranges there was nothing out there but a couple of dirt roads that you setup targets on and hand shifted,” Wright said.
Now the expansive 3,620 acre campus boasts 500 contract employees, 130 of which are dedicated to FLETC alone, not including employees of TSA, BIA, or other programs that operate on the grounds. Buildings and training areas now include multiple dormitories, a cafeteria, auditorium, emergency driving tracks, a mock courtroom, and a 108,000 square foot Physical Techniques Building. Most recently, FLETC unveiled a new dormitory on April 12, 2023, which “provides an additional 242 bed spaces for FLETC-Artesia.”
Much of this development was planned by Wright, who was charged with drawing up contracts and directing funds In 1999 when a lump sum saved over time was released.
“As Chief of Administration then I took all the money that broke free ($27 Million) and not only disbursed it I issued the contracts and started putting together the construction plan for Artesia for the next 10 years,” he said. “We built the new dining hall. We built a new classroom building. We built the swimming pool. In the admin side of the house we put a new office building.”
Artesia’s federal contracts have grown from $6- to $7-million per year (2004) to $27 million per year, according to Wright. The four major administrative contracts (dining hall, dormitory, student support services, and facilities) “brought permanent jobs to Artesia.”
During his years of service, Wright played a role in the addition of new training programs offered in Artesia, some of which were moved from other locations. FLETC Artesia now includes Border Patrol (2004), the Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian Police Academy (1992), Federal Air Marshals, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Secret Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (2010), the United States Department of Agriculture (2010), and the Bureau of Land Management (2010).
Wright noted FLETC Artesia’s response to the attacks of 9/11 as a key time period of his career.
This response was characterized by an increase in personnel, seeking funding for flight specific training programs, building 19 new firing ranges and modifying all contracts to accommodate a switch from classroom-based to scenario-based training, subjecting officers to a more intense training atmosphere in order to better prepare them for the line of duty. This switch involved the acquisition of training implements, such as grounded aircraft, to support anti-terrorism training.
According to a release titled “FLETC Office of Artesia Operations Overview” accessible at fletc.gov, “[FLETC]’s student population grew tenfold between Jan. and Sept. 2002.” Wright recalled FLETC Artesia training “over 3,000 Air Marshals during 9/11 within an 8-week period” as part of this intensive response. “Also born out of that was the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program which is pilots who fly armed. We brought those in the next year after that (2003) and started training them and there’s been over 25,000 of those trained since the conception of that program.”
Though Wright clearly felt proud of these and more achievements within FLETC’s campus, he clearly valued the benefits reaped by Artesia’s local community most. Wright’s “primary goal” for opening and operating FLETC-Artesia was to establish a “permanent financial system” for Artesia’s families and “growing the region’s economic base.”
“I’m hoping that whoever comes in behind me now will remember that,” Wright said. “Continue that. The purpose of FLETC Artesia was not about FLETC or the federal government so much. It was about Artesia. It was about what can we do for Artesia.”
Upon his retirement, Wright was presented with a flag that flew over the FLETC to honor and commemorate the legacy he leaves behind, pictured. When asked about plans for the future, Wright alluded to a public service possibility, stating he isn’t yet finished serving his community.