For those of us who lived through the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the date is a reminder of the unforgettable events and triggers memories of where you were, what you were doing and who you were with, as if it happened yesterday. This reaction is no different for Gil Adams, a Lead Transportation Security Officer (LTSO) at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY).
But on September 11, 2001, he was wearing a different uniform, as a deputy with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, carrying out an entirely different mission. At the time, he was in charge of the law enforcement details at MSY. As the event unfolded, Adams and his team jumped into action and secured the airport. “We rerouted traffic away from the airport, inspected taxis, and beefed up security,” he said.
That day affected how Adams and his team viewed law enforcement at the airport. “It put us on a higher sense of alert, and whenever there’s a disturbance, you wonder if this could be another terrorist attack. And even today, it’s always in the back of your mind.”
Years later, in March 2015, his team’s readiness was tested. A man wielding wasp spray, a machete and Molotov cocktails breached the checkpoint and sprayed Transportation Security Officers in the eyes with wasp spray while wielding his sword at anyone in sight. TSOs began throwing carry-on bags at the man to distract him while passengers fled to safety.
One of the officers on duty quickly responded and shot the man, who later died after refusing medical help from a local hospital. “It wasn’t a large-scale terrorist attack, but it showed how quickly a situation can quickly turn violent,” Adams said.
Recalling his 31 years of service, Adams is most proud of his accomplishments in climbing the ranks, his time serving the country in the U.S. Army for two years and the U.S. Army National Guard for 18 years, and attending the Federal Bureau of Investigations National Academy, a nine-week course that focuses on constitutional law and counterterrorism. In 2017, Adams decided to start another phase of his life: retirement.
When most people retire after a 30-year law enforcement career, they relax, travel or take on a new hobby. “Originally that was my plan,” Adams said.
At first, he played golf almost every day. And if he wasn’t on the course, he was on his boat fishing. “I’m not one to just sit around; I needed something to do,” he said. “It didn’t take me long to realize I needed to get back to work.”
“Never in my life would I have though that I would be working for TSA, but here I am,” he said. “I’m glad I made that choice.”
Only a year into retirement, Adams began his TSA career in November 2018. “There’s something about being in a uniform and part of a team that works for a common goal,” he said. “It’s something I take just as seriously as I did law enforcement and the military.”
His past professional experience has helped him in his current position. “You learn so much about leadership, character, discipline, respect and service and those play right in to our mission at TSA,” he said.
In true form, Adams found himself driven to climb the ranks. In 2021, he became an LTSO. “I made a commitment to TSA when I joined, and I want to contribute to our mission at higher levels,” he said.
“You take on a lot of responsibilities and many roles as a Lead officer,” Adams continued. “First you have to know your job and the screening rules, but most importantly, you have to realize that with rank comes responsibility, not power over others.”
Adams continued, “You have to be a good communicator, a mentor to your teammates, a liaison between TSOs and supervisors, and most importantly you have to lead by example.” Adams said he doesn’t ask any of his TSOs to do anything he wouldn’t do. “I don’t mind getting in a spot and helping out where I can when it’s needed. We’re all working toward the same goal. You have to behave in ways that earn you respect and trust among your teammates because that goes a long way.”
Adams also believes in being a motivator. “One thing I learned in law enforcement and the military is to stay calm in difficult circumstances,” he said. “That comes in handy, especially when dealing with irate passengers. Most of the time, they just want to vent, and if you give them an opportunity and listen to them, most of them will calm down and leave the checkpoint with a better attitude and understanding of our rules than when they came in.”
“I’m proud of what we do,” Adams said. “We haven’t seen another 9/11 attack, and I think that says a lot about what TSA does. Despite what you see on social media, we get so many compliments at MSY on how nice we are, and passengers are always thanking us for the job we do. Too bad those people aren’t as vocal on social media as the few disgruntled ones.”