On Aug. 16, 2023, Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) awarded Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Ashley Day the Julie Y. Cross Award for her response to the escalating tensions in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Julie Y. Cross Award is presented to the nominee who best displays an unusual degree of courage, stamina, and willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Day demonstrated these qualities during protests, a tenuous security situation, and the eventual resignation of the president and prime minister of Sri Lanka. What started out as a series of peaceful demonstrations by individuals tired of an economic and political crisis, turned unexpectedly violent. These were individuals who could not feed their families because there was no cooking fuel; they did not have electricity; and they could not fill their cars with gas. The protests shifted when pro-government protestors began demonstrating in opposition. More than 45 days of peaceful protests became increasingly tense.
Both pro- and anti-government protestors resorted to violence. Fast-breaking events made it extremely challenging to identify perpetrators and hold them accountable when the tents of long-time demonstrators and the homes and cars of government officials were burned.
Day and Regional Security Officer Natasha Poeschl were responsible for evacuating embassy personnel amid the ongoing chaos. Day, Poeschl, and the Marine Security Guards stayed overnight in the embassy, guarding the compound before finding a way to drive a few others who were stuck in the embassy home at dawn.
“Despite doing our research and hearing from outside sources that the streets were clear, we encountered a mob of young men on the drive from the embassy,” said Day. “They tried to get us out of the car, but I maneuvered us out of that situation and ensured that everyone got home safely.”
Although the embassy was not under direct attack, this unpredictable situation and lack of resources created potential challenges for the embassy. There was even the possibility of authorized departure, but Day, along with the rest of the regional security office team and the emergency action committee, managed to pull through the situation as a community.
“We managed to keep everyone safe,” Day said.
More About Ashley
Day’s career in DSS started 10 years ago, but her dream to work in law enforcement began in high school. Even as a kid, Day was interested in law enforcement and dreamed of having a career in crime scene investigations.
“At that time, I didn’t really see my myself being a street cop, so I let the dream of working in law enforcement drift away and pursued a degree in political science with a focus in international relations while at the University of California, Santa Barbara,” Day said.
While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Day was heavily involved in student politics. She was a campus elected official and rose through the ranks of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls Inc., starting as a member of the residence hall council before being elected as her school’s representative and, later, as associate director 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 are depending on me for answers, skills that really set me up for success in DSS later down the line,” Day said.
After graduating, Day applied to be a Foreign Service generalist, but when she stumbled across the job opening for DSS special agent positions, Day thought, “That’s way more me. I can do the politics, the law enforcement, and the 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 temporary assignments. When her time in Colombo is over, Day hopes to receive a master’s degree through the professional development unit program.
“Honestly, my career in DSS initially was quite difficult. I was assigned to Abuja, which is a very high-threat post but without the resources of a war zone. I was still new to DSS, and there was a huge learning curve going from domestic protection details to working overseas,” Day said.
Day appreciated the support of the community but struggled with working extensive hours and often being away on protective missions while trying to maintain friendships and get accustomed to the Foreign Service lifestyle. This changed when she was assigned 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 began to feel like family.
“It was very fulfilling. As a security professional, we were doing very real, imminent security work there,” Day said. “There is something about Afghanistan that just grabs your soul. It only took me two months to decide that I was going to extend my assignment for another year.”
In addition to her experience in Kabul, Day has enjoyed the opportunities to travel, both through work and during her time off. She has visited Thailand, Iceland, Ireland, and Maldives, among many other countries.
She summed up her career with DSS as being much more than a job in law enforcement: “DSS is management, leadership, and politics. There is a real depth to this career that you might not get in other careers. Anyone can have this job; it is just up to you to want it.”