On August 16, 2023, Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) presented Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Ashley Day with the Julie Y. Cross Award for her response to escalating tensions in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Julie Y. Cross Award is presented to the nominee who demonstrates an exceptional level of courage, perseverance and a willingness to go beyond the call of duty.
Day demonstrated these qualities amid protests, a precarious security situation and the eventual resignation of Sri Lanka's President and Prime Minister. What began as a series of peaceful demonstrations by individuals weary of an economic and political crisis unexpectedly turned violent. These were individuals who could not support their families because there was no fuel to cook with; they had no electricity; and they couldn't fill their cars with gas. The protests shifted as pro-government protesters began demonstrating in opposition. The peaceful protests, which lasted more than 45 days, became increasingly tense.
Both pro- and anti-government protesters resorted to violence. When the tents of longtime protesters and the homes and cars of government officials were burned, the groundbreaking events made it extremely difficult to identify and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Day and Regional Security Officer Natasha Poeschl were responsible for evacuating embassy staff amid the ongoing chaos. Day, Poeschl and naval security stayed at the embassy overnight, guarding the grounds before finding a way to evict a few others who were stuck inside the embassy's house at dawn.
“Although we had done our research and heard from outside sources that the roads were clear, we met a lot of young men driving from the embassy,” Day said. “They tried to get us out of the car but I maneuvered us out of that situation and made sure everyone got home safely.”
Although the Embassy was not under direct attack, this unpredictable situation and lack of resources posed potential challenges for the Embassy. There was even the possibility of an authorized departure, but Day, along with the rest of the Regional Security Office team and the Emergency Committee, managed to to deal with the situation as a community.
“We managed to keep everyone safe,” Day said.
More about Ashley
Day's career in DSS began 10 years ago, but her dream of working in law enforcement began in high school. As a child, Day had an interest in law enforcement and dreamed of a career in crime scene investigation.
“At the time, I didn't really have a vision of being a street cop, so I gave up my dream of working in law enforcement and went to the University of California to major in Political Science with a major in International Relations. Santa Barbara,” Day said.
During her undergraduate studies, Day was heavily involved in student politics. She was a campus-elected officer and rose through the ranks of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls Inc., first as a member of the dorm council before being elected her school's representative and later vice-principal for the region.
“This experience gave me the confidence for basic skills like public speaking, running a boardroom and being accountable to a group of people who depend on answers from me. Skills that really set me up for success in the DSS later on,” Day said.
After graduating, Day applied to be a generalist in the Foreign Service, but when she stumbled across the DSS special agent position, Day thought, “This is much more like me. I can do politics, law enforcement, and investigations.” She applied and never looked back.
Since then, she has worked in the Los Angeles field office. Abuja, Nigeria; Kabul, Afghanistan; Colombo, Sri Lanka; and countless other countries on a temporary basis. When her time in Colombo is over, Day hopes to earn a master's degree through the Professional Development Unit's program.
“To be honest, my career at DSS was pretty difficult at first. I was transferred to Abuja, a very vulnerable post but without the resources of a war zone. I was new to DSS and there was a tremendous learning curve ranging from the domestic protection details to working abroad,” Day said.
Day appreciated the support of the community, but struggled with working long hours and often traveling on protection missions while trying to maintain friendships and adjusting to the Foreign Service lifestyle. This changed when she was deployed to Afghanistan. In Kabul, she was reminded of what she loves about DSS. She was surrounded by an incredible sense of community, so much so that her teams felt like family.
“It was very fulfilling. As security professionals, we've done very real, imminent security work there,” Day said. “There is something about Afghanistan that just grabs your soul. It was only two months before I decided to extend my assignment for another year.”
In addition to her experience in Kabul, Day has enjoyed the opportunity to travel, both for work and pleasure. She has visited Thailand, Iceland, Ireland and the Maldives, among many other countries.
She summed up her career at DSS as being much more than just a law enforcement job: “DSS is management, leadership and politics. There's a real depth to this career that you might not find in other careers. Anyone can have this job; It is only up to you to want it.”