FBI Special Agent Wins Her Dream Job
Caroline Marshall protects and serves—with diabetes
On any given night, Caroline Marshall may be woken from a deep sleep to learn about a violent crime in Conrad, Montana. She gets the call, learns the location, and heads off into the dark.
What she doesn’t know: how long she’ll be gone, whether she’ll have time to eat, how physically active she’ll need to be, and—most important—how all of this will affect her blood glucose. That last part is key because for 27 years, Marshall has had type 1 diabetes. And for the past five, she’s been a special agent with the FBI.
Marshall bleeds red, white, and blue. Her dad’s a U.S. Marine, and from a young age she dreamed of serving her country. Of going to West Point. Of joining the military.
But at age 7 she developed type 1 diabetes. And when it comes to acceptance into the military, diabetes is a dealbreaker. So when she grew up, she traded West Point for Georgetown University. The military for a position on a Vermont police force. Sure, she was crushed her military dream ended before she could achieve it, but she wasn’t about to give up on a law enforcement career.
After four years as a police officer, Marshall enrolled in a graduate program to earn her master’s degree in forensic psychology. During that time, she interned for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), the federal agency responsible for investigating crimes involving the Navy and Marines. It was a job Marshall could see herself doing full time, and when a position opened, she applied.
She didn’t get the job. The problem, the NCIS said, was the small matter of her diabetes. NCIS agents never know where they’ll be working—in the United States or overseas. In that sort of job, according to the NCIS, well, diabetes would be an issue. It was a blow, for sure, but Marshall didn’t quit. Despite the setback, she was determined to land a law enforcement job. Diabetes, she decided, was not going to dictate her life.
In 2008, Marshall applied to the FBI like a general planning for battle: tactically and proactively. She underwent a medical evaluation and, though the agency didn’t request them, collected letters from every doctor she’d ever had, who attested to her diabetes control. “I put a lot of time into making sure my control was documented,” she says.
She applied and took the medical exam and waited and waited and waited. Finally, she got the news: She passed the medical evaluation. “I was trying to hold it together and be professional, but I just started crying,” she says. “I was so emotional. I hadn’t been certain they were going to pass me.”
From there, it was on to the FBI Academy, where she trained to be a special agent. “I’d wake up at the [FBI] academy every day, and be like, ‘Wow, I’m here. I’m at the FBI,’ ” she says.
For the past five years, Marshall has lived in a remote Montana town with a population under 4,000 and easy access to the nearby Blackfeet Reservation. There, she investigates violent crimes, such as homicide, sex assaults, and serious bodily injuries. Because crime is unpredictable, so is Marshall’s job. Hence the middle-of-the-night calls she gets when it’s her week to be “on call”—and ready for action at a moment’s notice.
“You never know where you’re going to be or for how long,” she says. Complicated cases could take hours, which means Marshall can forget about catching up on sleep and may have to skip meals, too. The job would wreak havoc on Marshall’s blood glucose control if she wasn’t so on top of it, planning ahead for hunger and possible blood glucose lows. Her car’s stocked with a cooler full of sports drinks and food, and if her blood glucose dips, she has juice on hand.
Thanks to the insulin pump at her hip, Marshall has some flexibility in terms of how much insulin she gives herself, and when. She also makes time on the job for diabetes care, such as blood glucose checks. “You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of yourself,” she says. “What does it take [to do a blood glucose test]? Ten seconds?”
Her diligence has paid off. Her last A1C was 6.4 percent.
Here’s the part where you stop imagining Marshall as a TV cop whose day is a mix of super-secret raids on bad guys’ homes, high-speed car chases, and extreme shoot-outs. She divides her time between the FBI’s Shelby, Montana, office and the reservation. “I wouldn’t say we’re busting down doors and chasing people every day,” she says. “But there are a lot of unexpected things that can happen. I’m definitely not sitting behind a desk all day long.”
Her physical activity differs from day to day, but Marshall exercises enough that, when she needs to break into action on the job, her body’s ready. She works out for an hour and a half to two hours daily, running, biking, or weight lifting. Nature is her playground, and she often hikes, skis, snowshoes, kayaks, and competes in triathlons.
Her eating plan complements her fitness routine. Her meals feature plenty of lean protein, vegetables, and healthy carb sources. For breakfast, she eats egg whites and yogurt. Lunch may be a salad with chicken. Apples and reduced-fat crackers make for healthy, portable snacks throughout the day. And dinner is veggies with lean meat.
Because of the unpredictability of her job, Marshall keeps her meals regimented: She eats the same foods every day so she can best predict where her blood glucose will be. “My philosophy on it is: I’m going to do whatever is possible to stay as healthy as I can,” she says.
Throughout her job, Marshall has come across many people with diabetes. American Indians have some of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the country. They’re more than twice as likely to develop the disease as whites. “I’ve met a ton of people on the reservation [with type 2 diabetes],” she says. “They actually have a diabetes center on the Blackfeet Reservation. If you get screened for diabetes, you can work out for free.”
Despite the connection, Marshall mostly keeps mum about her diabetes. “For the most part, I’m not publicizing the fact that I’m a diabetic,” she says, noting that most people assume her insulin pump is a pager for her job. “I guess there’s some part of me, especially in this role, that makes me not want to discuss what may be perceived as a weakness.”
That doesn’t mean she believes her diabetes has weakened her—on the contrary. “I really think I would be a different person if I didn’t have [diabetes],” she says. “It really has made me determined to be like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do what I want to do.’ ”
Learn more about law enforcement careers—including your rights as a person with diabetes—at diabetes.org/lawenforcement.