From Naval Aircraft Mechanic to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Management and Program Analyst

Veteran Heather McNeil is Making a Difference


Heather McNeil, known by most as “Dee,” started her impressive career by joining the U.S. Navy in 1983, one year after graduating from Compton High School in Compton, California.  She wanted to learn a trade within the aviation field and was offered an opportunity as a naval aircraft mechanic.

Over the course of her time in the Navy, McNeil was deployed to Japan, Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Diego Garcia, Guam, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  She was honorably discharged after 13 years of service.

“What I love about CBP is the opportunity for growth. My prior job duties and experience have come together as a foundation for what I’m doing today. CBP always has a place for you.”

“My choice to leave the Navy came after the 1996 bombings of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia where I narrowly missed the explosion. My husband, also a naval aviation mechanic, and I decided it was best for me to find a job closer to home and be with our six month old son.”

McNeil continued her work as an aircraft mechanic with Raytheon Aerospace at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, California.  She worked on ejection seats, canopy systems, air conditioning and oxygen systems.

When McNeil left Raytheon, she joined the then, U.S. Customs Service as an inspector at the Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport in order to serve her country in a different capacity.  On a daily basis she solved problems associated with shipments, entry packages, warehouse audits and referred all suspicious shipments for inspection.

Her keen attention to detail paid off.  McNeil worked with customs agents and processed more than 200 seizures in connection with an in-bound diversion smuggling scheme valued at approximately $200 million.   

When the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Customs Service became U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2003.  McNeil’s position was reclassified to CBP Officer and she was promoted to supervisor in 2006.   

Three years later, McNeil decided it was time to broaden her skills again.  “It’s always been hard to take the next step, but always exciting to learn something new,” she said.

McNeil applied for a temporary promotional assignment as a Management and Program Analyst with Mission Support at the Los Angeles Field Office.  Within two months, she was offered a permanent position and remains there today, seven years later.  As part of her regular duties, she is responsible for CBP facility construction projects, including Federal Inspection Service (FIS) areas and administrative offices.  With McNeil’s experience on the frontline, she is able to bring new insight to her position, such as input for facility technical design standards.

“I oversee all phases of CBP facility designs and programming — operational and administrative — and ensure all projects are in compliance with CBP specifications,” she said.  For each project, McNeil acts as the liaison between headquarters, the Los Angeles Field Office, and stakeholders.

McNeil’s past projects include the new CBP FIS in Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, the new facility at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles, and a new express consignment facility for the United Parcel Service in Ontario, California. 

McNeil’s largest project, the Tom Bradley International Terminal Project at the Los Angeles International Airport, has been ongoing since 2010.  The $1.9 billion renovation includes 80 new primary booths, nine new gates, and an extensive sterile corridor.  In addition, the renovation includes a new Great Hall with 150,000 square feet for premier dining, retail shopping and other passenger amenities.

“My scope in this project extends beyond just CBP offices and operational spaces,” she said. “CBP must be able to track passengers and baggage from the aircraft until they exit the FIS area.”

McNeil added, “What I love about CBP is the opportunity for growth. My prior job duties and experience have come together as a foundation for what I’m doing today. CBP always has a place for you.”

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