Most of us in aviation are intimately familiar with 9-11 and the subsequent creation of the Department of Homeland (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I am honored to tell you a little about my story with the establishment, challenges and accomplishments with the TSA.
Shortly after 9-11, those of us with a military affiliation were preparing for a call to action in support of the United States response to 9-11. In early 2002, I was in Alabama completing the first of several training iterations with the Army National Guard (ARNG) while also trying to spend time with family, friends and civilian colleagues. During a break in training, someone noticed a posting on the internet looking for a cohort of TSA Supervisory Transportation Security Officers (STSO’s). Without much thought, a few of us completed the questionnaire and returned to the training at hand.
Shortly thereafter, a call came from TSA with an invitation to attend an interview in Chicago, Ill. Simply said, it was unbelievably fast and furious as TSA was forming its first, front-line workforce. The interview process was intense and consisted of stations for color vision, hand dexterity, comprehension, decision making and communication. We found ourselves in the midst of TSA integrating a host of other agency systems to support our mission sustainment, i.e., procurement, time and attendance, travel vouchers and personnel actions. Conditional offers were made and, on that day, a group of unknowns embarked on an unimaginable journey.
Training consisted of one week in Oklahoma City (OKC) to become screener qualified and once completed, we were immediately dispatched into the field for one week of on-the-job (OJT). After OJT, we returned to OKC for supervisory qualification and once again were immediately dispatched into the field for a final week of OJT. Preparing to depart on our first tasking, our cohort somehow became what was referred to as the “First 300”. Our agreement with this newly formed National Deployment Force (NDF), was to remain in travel status for one year to oversee the training and federalization of approximately 429 airports. In May 2002, we assembled at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) and began our mission.
By any measure, federalizing BWI was exceptionally challenging for everyone. Passenger wait times were tremendously high, ranging in the 30–45-minute range. Airline staff did their best to monitor and triage long lines consistent with scheduled aircraft departure times. Passenger and baggage throughput and random gate screening returned unimaginable metrics. We assembled daily for in-briefings and out-briefings to rollout updates to our screening Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). Policies on appearance, passenger handling and observing the protocols of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) were just a few of the topics that underwent multiple iterations.
A few weeks into our assignment, several of us were designated to monitor and document a stringent set of OJT requirements as well as handle first point of contact problem resolution. One noteworthy encounter was denying a passenger from carrying a nail clipper on her flight. While talking with our vocally frustrated passenger, it was reported that the nail clipper was a gift from a foreign dignitary and had great sentimental value. By the powers to be, we were fortunate enough to get to the ticket counter and expedite a bag check.
Another interesting day ended with mediating a dispute between two colleagues. One gentleman wore an earring while another wore a military award insignia, both prohibited with a recent appearance modification. Speaking to each individually, the gentleman with the earring was simply cavalier about the new guidance and the other gentleman wore his pin in protest of the wearing of the earring. Once things straightened out, I came to find out the insignia represented a Silver Star earned in Vietnam. I also came to find out he was a personal body guard for former Mayor Koch of New York City. And while the stories could go on and on, suffice to say we completed our mission and were dispatched in groups to federalize the remaining airports.
In August 2002, I was activated for Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. Returning home and back to work, indications were terrorists were planning an operation similar to 9-11 utilizing airline crewmembers. A team of forty-one STSO’s were sent to Washington, D. C., to stand up the Crew Vetting Program (CVP) at the Transportation Security Operations Center (TSOC) in Reston, Virg. Collaterally, we assisted with the implementation of a programs to track Federal Air Marshals (FAM’s) and Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO’s). It was twelve-hour shifts, six days a week but exciting to collaborate in a newly established, multi-agency facility.
In response to the March 2004, terrorist bombing of Madrid-area train stations, DHS and TSA partnered with the rail industry to launch a three-phase pilot program called Transit Rail Inspection Pilot (TRIP). The goal of the program was to determine the feasibility of leveraging airport screeners to evaluate currently available and emerging screening technologies. Twelve of us were tasked to execute the program and became known as the “Dirty Dozen”. While initially chartered for a six month, three phase program, we were subsequently tasked with follow-on screening support for the Republican Nation Convention in New York City and 2005 Presidential Inaugural “Freedom Ball” in Washington, D. C.
Continuing to address all sectors of transportation, DHS and TSA responded to the February 2004 bombing of a Philippine passenger ferry and dispatched our team to execute a maritime pilot program called Secure Automobile Inspection Lane (SAIL). Based in Cape May, New Jersey, we spent one month on the Cape May-Lewes ferry evaluating currently available technologies in various environments.
In 2006, the Administration was actively seeking ways to leverage data exchange protocols that could be applied across several programs. TSA partnered with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to apply a clear set of syntax rules enabling real-time vetting. Adopting practices within the scope of the United Nations rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT), we were able to cross-utilize program successes. We assisted the Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP), a program that enables TSA to adjudicate flight students who are not U. S. citizens to ensure they do not pose a threat to aviation or national security.
Continuing to leverage knowledge and skills gained, several of us retrained to support the Secure Flight Program (SF). My colleagues stepped up to assist with Industry Performance and Analysis (IPA), Program Management Office (PMO) and Intelligence analytics.
I retired in 2015, very grateful for the work and support of the entire TSA family and my closest colleagues. Their tireless dedication and professionalism in securing our national transportation and infrastructure sectors are executed with passion, commitment and determination. Sharing these experiences highlights only some of TSA’s incredible accomplishments, recognized globally for securing the interest of our nation!