Climbing the career ladder: TSA officer to Federal Air Marshal

Thursday, February 1, 2024
Derek during FAMS training. (TSA photo)

Derek is living his dream.

Over his nearly eight years at TSA, Derek (last name redacted to protect his identity due to his current role) has climbed the agency’s career ladder, joining the TSA team at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) in May 2016, quickly being promoted to lead and supervisory TSA officers and is now a Federal Air Marshal.

Despite his successes, Derek is still surprised with the direction his career has taken him, saying, “When I joined TSA, my career aspirations were to use TSA as a stepping stone and eventually land a federal law enforcement officer position in another agency.”

However, he admits he was interested in the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) before joining TSA. 

Federal Air Marshal Badge

“I was interested in many agencies, but the FAMS mission resonated with me as my mom was a flight attendant before retiring,” Derek said. “The more interested I became in FAMS, the more it became a goal of mine to reach. Being exposed to FAMS as a TSA officer really cemented that goal.”

“I have always had a desire to serve my country, and the FAMS mission really appealed to me,” he added.

While a supervisory officer at DTW, Derek sought opportunities to expand his TSA experience, participating in efforts such as the Homeland Security Rotation Program and the Transportation Security Support Team, which included a deployment to Philadelphia International Airport to support Operation Allies Welcome.

In his early TSA days, though, he thought becoming a FAM was unrealistic.

“I doubted I could gain the experience I believed the FAMS was looking for as a TSA officer, and I would need to move on from TSA, gain law enforcement experience elsewhere and apply again in the future,” noted Derek. “The more experience I gained, professionally and personally, the more realistic it became.”

Derek believes his most beneficial career decision at TSA was volunteering to serve on an interview panel as a supervisory officer.

“It gave me a chance to fully understand the structured interview process, which I struggled with in the past,” he said. “Hearing the stories and grading the interviews highlighted errors I was making personally when I interviewed for positions at TSA. My interview skills improved dramatically after being on the panel.”

Armed with this new information, he decided to try to make the leap to FAMS, successfully clearing the interview process and graduating from the FAMS training program in September 2023.

Despite his original doubts, he said, “I was told very early on that my time at TSA could be whatever I wanted it to be, and I believe that’s still true today. Whether it’s a promotion, a detail or a collateral duty, plenty of opportunities are available to progress within TSA.”

Derek called the first few months as a FAM amazing.

“I’m excited to go to work,” he said. “I’ve traveled places I otherwise wouldn’t have and made some good memories already.”

He believes his service as a TSA officer gave him some of the skills that have proven useful as a FAM.

“Time management, an incredible amount of patience, decisiveness, the ability to communicate effectively, de-escalation skills and behavior recognition to name a few all helped prepare me for the academy and my day-to-day job as a FAM,” Derek explained.

He is strongly convinced if fulfilling his career dream happened to him, it can happen to any anyone in and out of the agency.

“I would tell people skeptical of moving up the career ladder that the experience gained in leadership will always be beneficial in the future. It doesn’t matter if that future is with TSA, another federal agency or in the private sector; the experience can only help your career aspirations.”

By Roberta Vickerman, FAMS Detroit, and Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs