JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two women are holding the highest federal law enforcement positions in North Florida.
The trendsetters work hand in hand and in traditionally male-centered roles.
Rachel Rojas is the special agent in charge of FBI Jacksonville.
“Time is really flying by,” she said. “It hasn’t felt like a job. It’s almost like a part of the family.”
She’s the first Latina to hold the position of an FBI office director.
Jennifer Bradshaw is U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Area Port Director in Jacksonville.
However, both will tell you they’ve had numerous obstacles in their journeys.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Bradshaw said.
Both have the highest positions in their offices in the area. Both fell into federal law enforcement unexpectedly.
Rojas, who grew up in New York City, started as a journalism major who met an FBI agent who recruited her.
Bradshaw, originally from Tampa, went to the police academy and met friends who encouraged her to go federal.
Little did they know, two decades later, they would be leading their own offices. Both were discouraged by people because they were, simply put, females.
“My family served in the NYPD and they did not feel that a female should be in law enforcement,” Rojas remembered. “It’s a very male-dominated place. They did not see that as being fit for me.”
“My first supervisor opened my eyes and told me I was the only female on the team at the time and he told me that he didn’t really think highly of females in law enforcement,” Bradshaw said. “He wanted me to know that right off the bat.”
They went through rigorous training anyways, moved across the country multiple times and rose in the ranks -- fighting terrorism, spies and responding to disaster areas. They did this all while juggling a family life -- Rojas raised her stepson with her husband, and Bradshaw has four children and a husband in law enforcement.
Was it ever too much?
“A couple of times,” Bradshaw said. “One was really right after the birth of my first child. Sept. 11 happened almost six months to the day. And I was on maternity leave when they called me back early. We were working 16, 18, 20 hours a day, trying to address this really unknown at the time. This tragic event.”
“You don’t know what your day today is gonna look like,” Rojas said. “You’re going to miss some key highlight days with your family. You’re going to miss certain birthdays, certain events. It is a tough sacrifice.”
The pair work together regularly with one mission: to protect Americans. Their teams were never closer, however, than after the 2019 terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola when a Saudi Arabian student pilot killed three sailors and injured eight people. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility and the gunman was killed during the attack, but the case is still open as Rojas’ and Bradshaw’s agents continue to investigate the case and look for others potentially involved.
“I’m definitely honored that I do have Jennifer,” Rojas said. “It’s nice to not be the only one. It’s nice to have a partner.
Bradshaw added: “It’s nice to walk into a room and see another female there.”
As they work together as team, they’re breaking the glass together.
“One of the quotes that I live by is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. It says, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. The greatest person that can fail you is you,’” Bradshaw said. “So a lot of times we lack that self-confidence, especially going into a male-dominated workforce.”
“To show people you can do anything,” Rojas said. “Your parents always tell you that you can be anything when you grow up. They’re not kidding. You really can do anything, and you achieve what you want. You’ve just got to fight for it. You got to believe in yourself and the people that you work with.”
Now, both are on a mission to support other women who want to follow in their footsteps. Rojas and Bradshaw mentor women who are interested in getting into federal law enforcement. They also have a task force to be more inclusive to women who are recruits and those who are already working with them. They say it’s the least they can do because so many people helped get them to where they are.
While News4Jax is highlighting Rojas and Bradshaw for this story, it’s important to not they’re not the only female law enforcement leaders in Northeast Florida. State Attorney Melissa Nelson is the top prosecutor for the 4th Judicial Circuit. Michelle Cook was elected the Clay County sheriff in 2020. In March, Jennifer Michaux became the St. Augustine Police Department’s first police chief. While she has retired, Michelle Klimt was the special agent in charge of FBI Jacksonville from 2013 to 2016.