State Department agent returns home for Baker-to-Vegas race

Supervisory Special Agent Lawrence Casselle on a Blackhawk helicopter with Secretary of State C ...

Before traveling to more than 70 countries during a nearly 20-year career in the U.S. State Department, Lawrence Casselle got his start in in the Las Vegas Valley.

The supervisory special agent is back in Las Vegas this week ahead of the 2022 Challenge Cup/Baker to Vegas Relay. The annual event includes teams of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies running a 120-mile relay that starts Saturday morning in California and ends early Sunday at the Rio.

Casselle, 46, was born and raised in North Las Vegas, where he spent the first 15 years of his life and attended Rancho High School.

“The special memory was my mom and dad who were very active in the African American community here and watching what they did for the Black community in terms of supporting education, supporting the growth of that community,” Casselle said of growing up in North Las Vegas.

Today, he is chief of staff to Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gentry Smith. The Diplomatic Security Service is the largest bureau within the State Department, Casselle said.

DSS protects the secretary of state and visiting foreign dignitaries; investigates human trafficking and visa and passport crimes; and manages security at more than 275 embassies and consulates around the world. There are 33 DSS field offices in the United States.

“Whenever there’s a security incident or terrorism event, my agency is typically the closest there on ground and typically the responders to those events overseas,” Casselle said.

Casselle said his parents had him join Rancho’s Junior ROTC program to instill more discipline in his life, and it ended up starting him on his eventual career path. As a sophomore he went to the Missouri Military Academy and later graduated from Hampton University in Virginia. He served four years as an infantry officer in the Army and then decided he wanted become a federal law enforcement agent.

Casselle joined DSS as a special agent in 2003. He worked on former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s protective detail in 2006-08. He traveled with Rice to more than 70 countries in those three years.

“I would advance her trips to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and make sure that the entire security apparatus for her visit was set up and in place prior to her arrival,” Casselle said.

In 2019-20, Casselle worked as director for counterterrorism with the National Security Council at the White House. While in that role, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked on Dec. 31, 2019.

“It was up to me to ensure that our national security decision-makers had the accurate information on what was going on on the ground in Iraq at that time,” Casselle said.

‘Full circle’ moment

Teams will have staggered starting times beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday in Baker, about 50 miles southwest of Primm. Casselle will be running the anchor leg for DSS and is one of 20 runners from the bureau participating. He is expected to cross the finish line around 4:30 a.m. Sunday after running approximately 4.6 miles.

“Tomorrow evening I won’t be getting much sleep,” Casselle said Friday.

While DSS has been represented at the relay by local field offices in the past, this is the first year the entire bureau will be taking part. Along with the 20 runners from all over the world, DSS sent 40 people to act as support staff. It is the first time Casselle will be participating, and the relay provided DSS an opportunity to hold recruiting events.

Casselle said DSS has held events with the NAACP, 100 Black Men of Las Vegas and The Center this week.

“We seek to have our ranks look like the rest of America,” Casselle said.

At around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, he will be dropped off on West Desert Inn Road, west of South Jones Boulevard, and wait about three hours to pick up the baton.

“It’s really full circle and just a distinct honor to be able to come back to my hometown and finish up this important race and this important week for our diversity recruiting efforts here in Las Vegas,” Casselle said.

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.