SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Retired Special Agent Kathy Adams was the first woman in the history of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations to be named a SWAT Team Leader.

She was promoted at the FBI’s Springfield office in 1997 and remains the only woman who held the role.

The special agent career path has seen many more trailblazers, but women like Special Agent Adams were few and far between when she first embarked down the law enforcement path in 1982.

It wasn’t a title women were allowed to hold for most of the federal agency’s history. That policy changed exactly 50 years ago and a decade before Adams graduated from the police academy.

Joanne Pierce and Susan Roley became the first two women sworn in as special agents. That number grew to 11 by the end of 1972.

Adams, 64, set her sights on a career with the FBI right around that time.

“I knew from first grade, I wanted to be an FBI agent,” she said.

Her first title was officer Adams of the Baltimore Police Department where she spent her time “working the streets.”

She was self-assured from the get-go, but there was no denying how rare her role as a woman was. Adams shared a story from the early 1980s when she was working undercover “on a daytime burglary detail.”

“There was an individual walking by with the TV on his shoulder, so I was conducting a field interview with him and I could visibly see what I believe to be drugs in his side pocket.”

The scene escalates, she described, and “I get in a fight with him because he starts attacking me.”

As Adams was “getting him subdued,” she says, “One of the people looking in said, ‘Hey, lady, you want me to call the cops?’ And I said, ‘I am the cop.'”

The story sent her into laughter, most of her stories do.

“And I think you have to have a sense of humor,” she said. “And just keep believing in herself.”

A year or two later, she says the man she arrested that day recognized her while she was out on patrol.

“He said, ‘I just wanted to thank you for saving my life, because of the way you treated me and got me into a treatment program.’ And I thought that was so cool,” she said with a smile.

Adams applied to the FBI while working in Baltimore, and in 1986 she got the call she’d been dreaming of for decades.

“So I was like, ‘Yahoo!'” Adams recalled.

There were just as few, if not fewer women at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia outside of Washington D.C.

“For the most part, you would be the only female on squad or in the resident agency,” she said, adding that was “pretty much standard”.

After 11 years at a New Orleans, LA field office, Adams made her way to Springfield. She was selected SWAT Team Leader months into the new role, becoming the first and only woman in U.S. history to reach that position.

“The interim team leader approached me and said that the team wanted me to become the team leader, and it was endorsed by the front office. And that was based on my abilities and my experience in the SWAT arena,” she remembered.

“I was like, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Okay.'”

The decision was a surprise, she said.

“I mean, I was honored. And I just, at the time, I hoped I would do a good job with it.”

She said the city “had a big ‘Gangster Disciples’ problem” at the time. “And there was a lot of shootings, and you know drug trafficking.”

That became a central case for the Springfield bureau from roughly 1997 to 2001. It was called ‘Operation Jaguar,’ or ‘Justice Against Gangs Utilizing All Resources.’

“Essentially, we built a case against the ‘Gangster Disciples,’ and the ones that were coming up from St. Louis, and the ones coming down from Chicago, and dismantled the whole organization,” Adams said.

She was given the Director’s Award in Washington D.C. for that effort.

Adams also won a Bronze Star while she was still in the police academy in Baltimore for diving in after someone.

“I happen to be down at the Inner Harbor and the guy jumped in the Inner Harbor to commit suicide, and I jumped in and pulled him out,” she said.

Adams was running another team all the while on the homefront, raising two children.

“I would affectionately refer to myself as velcro mom, because when I would get home…” she trailed off, instead making a suction noise, a memory of how the kids would cling to her immediately upon her return.

“I would run with him in the baby jogger and race with them actually,” she recalled. “The only thing that slowed me down was when they would drop their pacifiers. I’d have to pick them up and clean them off,” she laughed.

Women remain very scarce on SWAT teams, Adams said.

“I would encourage any woman that wants to be on a SWAT team to believe in themselves and get themselves into shape,” she encouraged.

“And go for it. Yeah, cuz you never know unless you try.”

Her path wasn’t without learning curves for both herself and her majority male counterparts.

“I was meeting with two investigators,” she began a story of her time in New Orleans.

“One of them says, ‘Well, I want to write something down for you.’ So he pulls out a paper and he says, ‘Oh, I don’t have a pencil.'”

“So I said, ‘Oh, I got one.’ So I reached in my pocket and what I pulled out was a Tampax,” she said before the room laughed with her.

“So ladies, Tampax in one pocket, pens and pencils in the other,” she advised.

That sense of humor smoothed the rather rugged trail she blazed.

“I think it’s important to consider that everything isn’t as easy as it sounds. There’ll be setbacks, there’ll be mistakes, but you’ll learn from them,” she concluded.

“And just keep believing in yourself.”

Adams retired in 2015. She lives in Champaign working cold cases as a volunteer for the Cold Case Foundation.