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Instructor Spotlight: Anna “Jo-Jo” Castillo


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Instructor Spotlight: Anna “Jo-Jo” Castillo

By: Brian M. Jones

“My work is centered around service” rang out loud and clear as Senior Instructor Anna “Jo-Jo” Castillo reminisced about her life and what led her to teach at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC). A strong sense of devotion and dedication to helping others has dominated nearly every season of Castillo’s life and she feels whole heartedly that she is “living her purpose.” This sense of purpose drives her to do her best each day as she strives to make all her students “better than she was”—which is no simple task—but one that Castillo takes on willingly and passionately. 

From a very young age, Castillo’s path was guided towards a life of service. Her father served honorably in both the United States Marine Corps and in the United States Army, but it was when she was around twelve years old that she saw a different side of her dad’s service that inspired her. Her father was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer and was still trying to find ways to serve. He would pull out a book periodically that provided descriptions of all kinds of law enforcement jobs. Castillo would watch her father at the table from down the hall and see him looking intently at the listings on those pages. One day she watched closely to see where he put the book away and at the first opportunity she had, she grabbed the book to see what he was reading. When she turned the pages, she saw an entry her dad had circled. It was the description for a security guard position and just below was the words Special Agent. This was her first introduction to what would later be her field of interest. 

Anna “Jo-Jo” Castillo was nominated by her local Hospice office to be a torch bearer for the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, GA.
Anna “Jo-Jo” Castillo was nominated by her local Hospice office to be a torch bearer for the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, GA.

At the age of fourteen, Castillo’s father passed away, and she soon found herself in the last place she wanted to be. Not only was she managing the emotional devastation of losing a parent, but before his passing he had signed up his children to attend a bereavement camp through Hospice. Though she didn’t want to be there, this experience led to one of the most transformative experiences of her life. The volunteer coordinator from the camp contacted Castillo’s mom and asked if “Jo-Jo” would be willing to be a teen volunteer for Hospice, where she would work with terminally ill children. For three years, Castillo experienced life and death in an extraordinarily intimate way as she became a friend to these children when they needed one the most.

Castillo built attachments whose end was heartbreaking but allowed her to further define her purpose and what service meant to her. As she looked to her future and what she would do, she thought about the military. Castillo heard the voice of her Marine and Soldier father who used to tell her if she were ever to join the military, join the Air Force. After graduating high school, she spoke with an Air Force recruiter and mentioned an interest in that job title she had seen when she was twelve, Special Agent. The recruiter mentioned Security Forces and for the next four to five years of her life she specialized in heavy weapons for Air Base Defense. 

Castillo’s expertise in her job was recognized and she was sent to teach the next generation of Security Forces personnel at Lackland Air Force Base, where she served as an instructor for four years. She loved teaching but wanted to gain more professional experience and applied to join a protective service operations team. She soon joined the team assigned to General Lance L. Smith, Commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command, and NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation. Castillo’s time with General Smith was short lived as Marine Corps General James Mattis soon took over the position.  

General Mattis’ appointment presented an unexpected challenge to Castillo’s current role. By policy, Marine Corps General’s protective details are supposed to be comprised of agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). As Air Force Security Forces, Castillo was awaiting her reassignment. However, General Mattis liked the team that was in place and found a way to keep them there. Mattis had each member of the team sworn in as NCIS agents and signed their credentials. The credentials were limited in scope and were retired to each member after they left the team. The uniqueness of Air Force Security Forces sworn in as NCIS agents did not escape Castillo. 

Anna “JoJo” Castillo with General James Mattis at a Marine Corps Ball.
Anna “JoJo” Castillo with General James Mattis at a Marine Corps Ball.

She was the only woman on a seventeen-person team and recalled the first time she was chosen to drive for General Mattis. A vehicle cut in front of her just as a light turned red and she had to make an abrupt stop. Her right arm went out to hold Mattis’ body back. His response was priceless. With her eyes straight forward, she could see Mattis’ body from the side of her eye. Her hand now frozen on his chest, she noticed his head quickly looked down at her hand then made a swift look directly at her as he said, “Anna, that’s a mom arm if I have ever seen one. Tell me about your daughter Olivia.”  Before answering, she thought for sure this type of protection wasn’t what the General was looking for and believed her time with the team was done. Just before Mattis departed the vehicle for work, he reassured her all was well with a smile on his face and a simple statement that he looked forward to seeing her that afternoon for pick up. This alleviated Castillo’s concerns. 

For three years, Castillo worked for General Mattis and when he asked her what she wanted to do next the image from her dad’s book came to mind yet again. General Mattis signed a letter of recommendation for Castillo to move to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) and soon held that title she first thought of when she was twelve—Special Agent. 

OSI took Castillo to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where she worked in the Major Crimes Branch, handling investigations involving sexual assaults, child pornography, and she became a member of the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force. During her time in major crimes, she was learning forensics from Major Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen. Forensics was reserved for officers at the time, but Major Vorderbruggen sponsored her, and Castillo became one of the first five enlisted forensics consultants in OSI. Unfortunately, on December 21, 2015, Major Vorderbruggen and her team which included: AFOSI Staff Sgt. Michael A. Cinco; AFOSI Staff Sgt. Chester J. McBride; AFOSI Staff Sgt. Peter W. Taub; Air Force Security Forces (SF) Tech. Sgt. Joseph G. Lemm; and SF Staff Sgt. Louis M. Bonacasa, were killed by a suicide bomber in a village near Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. This hit Castillo hard, but she is grateful that she was able to thank Vorderbruggen for the guidance and support prior to her passing.

Vorderbruggen’s sponsorship was not an arbitrary decision as she saw something in Castillo that warranted the support. In 2015, Castillo received the Women in Federal Law Enforcement  (WIFLE) Award. In 2016, she was awarded Special Agent of the Year for OSI. Two years later, she found herself in a position she hadn’t been in since she was at Lackland when Castillo became the first enlisted Forensics Science Consultant Instructor for the AFOSI Academy at FLETC. In 2020, just three days prior to her retirement from the Air Force after 23 years, Castillo was moving into her new office, full-time with FLETC, as a Forensic Science Instructor.  

Federal Law Enforcement Senior Instructor Anna “Jo-Jo” Castillo guiding students through a crime scene investigation.
Federal Law Enforcement Senior Instructor Anna “Jo-Jo” Castillo guiding students through a crime scene investigation.

Castillo says that she ensures “students are aware and understand the realities of the profession as well as the importance to seek the truth while remaining unbiased.” Having witnessed some harsh realities during her career, as well as the many blessings, she is in a perfect place to continue her “passion and life’s purpose.” Watching the interaction between her and the students—it is evident that if anyone could guide someone to be “better than she was,” it is definitely Senior Instructor Anna “Jo-Jo” Castillo.