Some days at the checkpoint it seems like the same old thing: “please put your items in the bins,” “please remove all laptops and electronics bigger than a cellphone” or everyone’s favorite, “excuse me, are you wearing a belt?”
Routine and eventless, but safe. Then, on a very rare occasion, some guy with an eagle comes through.
What? You heard right. A bald eagle. The symbol of America that’s emblazoned on our uniform sleeve patches and money; it’s everywhere. You can’t get more patriotic than the American bald eagle.
That’s what happened in late August at Charlotte International Airport (CLT). Clark the Eagle (real name) was presented in his cage for security screening. But Clark is no ordinary eagle. He is a fully trained resident of the World Bird Sanctuary conservation department, where he was born with scale deformities on his feet. In wilderness-splain, this means his feet wouldn’t be properly protected during the cold winter, and he would suffer frostbite and loss of toes. He would likely starve. The good news is that all of Clark’s siblings were able to be released into the wild.
Because Clark is non-releasable, at a very young age he joined the Eagle Flight team and in his spare time began training to become a ‘flying ambassador.’ He’s one of four bald eagles who serve as a flying ambassador for the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri, near St. Louis. The 300-acre sanctuary provides safe haven to about 270 various animal species.
Clark is single and most likely Aries since he spends much of his time in the sky. He likes to hang out in fowl places (St. Louis Cardinals-Busch Stadium) and at gatherings of other like-minded aviators (usually Boeing events). An unabashed carnivore, he dines mainly at venues featuring wild seafood cuisine. When he is working, mainly at baseball and football stadiums, he has been known to soar at 40 mph to the cheers of thousands of adoring fans.
Traveling is not a problem with Clark, he is a frequent flyer. When presented at a TSA security checkpoint, Clark is calmly removed from his cage and perches on his handler’s heavily gloved arm. He is trained to open his wings for a full wing/body inspection and is visually screened as a service animal per TSA standard operating procedures; no artfully concealed weapons here, except maybe that beak.
The experience was not lost on the officers at the checkpoint.
CLT TSA Officer Ashante Ramsey described her experience with Clark the Eagle as nothing short of amazing. “From the moment I was asked to assist with the screening, I was excited. I have always been fascinated with eagles, and I’m glad to have been able to witness something so breathtaking.”
“My previous work background was as a vet tech at Sea World,” said CLT Lead TSA Officer Luis Rivera. “With my prior experience with animals, I felt very comfortable with the screening of Clark the Eagle. This experience was exciting, different and awesome to all the officers on the checkpoint.”
By Wayne Carey, TSA’s Strategic Communications & Public Affairs