At 21 years old, TSA has reached the age of majority, a maturation reflected in the number of leaders who have grown their careers from the ranks of the front line.
When former uniformed officers Jeffrey Tyler, Danielle Bean and Deborah Jaehning met in conversation about their present assistant federal security (AFSD) jobs, one thing was clear: They didn’t get to where they are by sitting on their hands. Using their screening experience as a foundation, they made intentional TSA career choices, collectively working in 16 locations and mastering 18 positions.
S, G, MS - What’s in a name?
Although each airport is different in the way AFSD duties align, leadership is at the core of each position. An effective AFSD supports the federal security director by overseeing field departments that keep critical security operations running smoothly. They analyze metrics, set deadlines, budget, network internally and externally, create partnerships, align officer schedules to meet throughput needs, mentor, offer feedback, communicate effectively and remain flexible to nimbly pivot at a moment’s notice.
Part of being a good communicator is knowing the folks with whom you work. As AFSDs, all three panelists find it necessary to know what motivates their staffs, and they spend a large portion of their day building relationships.
As ASFD for mission support at Dulles International Airport, Danielle Bean oversees human resources, finance, logistics, training and safety.
“As the AFSD-MS, it’s my job to make sure they have the tools and resources to move their programs forward,” said Bean. “If they’re not operating effectively and efficiently, people don’t get hired. They don’t have a safe place to work. They don’t have the supplies and resources to perform their jobs or the training to operate the equipment.
“I also spend a lot of time reviewing metrics, measuring performance, determine if we're on target and to also help us drive decisions on how we're going to move forward.”
Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) AFSD-Screening Jeffrey Tyler oversees a daily screening operation of checkpoint and baggage within Dallas and spokes. He also oversees the Coordination Center, training, scheduling, operations and programs.
“(Support) comes in a variety of ways,” said Tyler, who likes to think of challenges as opportunities. “And so the thing that I get most excited about as the AFSD of screening is really getting the opportunity to (do) what I call minimize distraction, supporting the workforce … that they are most focused on the things that need to occur each and every day.”
Having worn the uniform, Tyler listens and makes decisions with the workforce in mind.
“… the first bit of information that you get is not always the most accurate. So that creates patience in ensuring that you're not only just listening, but you're listening to understand.”
As AFSD-generalist at Kahului Airport in Hawaii, Deborah Jaehning acts as a stakeholder and project manager. She describes her job as a blend of the mission support and screening positions, “focusing on leading and caring for people, running security programs and numerous programs and projects to meet the mission at the ground level.”
Jaehning is also active in project management and likens that work to building a house.
“When there are projects to be done, you need to know how to communicate them in like building a home or redoing some type of project. You need a blueprint. You need a budget. You need to set deadlines. But the most important thing to remember is to remain flexible, because the only constant you're going to find here at TSA is change.”
Movers and shakers
Their specific AFSD titles and duties differ slightly, but it’s notable all three panelists relocated numerous times to further their careers.
“I'm a single mom, and I was the person in my family who everybody believed would remain near my family in Michigan my entire life,” said Bean, who has relocated five times in her 20-year TSA career.
“But what I realized through that (first) move is that I survived, and the change had an absolute positive impact in my life and my career.” Bean realizes not everyone can move, but for those who choose to take a job in a new city, it can be a game changer.
While Tyler was moving around the nation in 2002 as a supervisory TSA officer on the mobile screening force federalizing John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Jaehning continued with her airline industry job past 9/11.
“I committed myself to fortify airline security programs and further my education,” said Jaehning, who saw TSA as a long-term goal.
Once ready to make the leap armed with an advanced degree, Jaehning hit a wall, receiving only three interviews despite her 167 applications for leadership positions. Airline friends who earlier had made the transition suggested she apply as a transportation security officer. Two full-time positions were available: Hawaii and Alaska.
“I signed up for Anchorage (in) freezing cold Alaska,” recalled Jaehning. “Absolutely beautiful. But I also signed up for midnight and I volunteered for any and all special assignments any day in the morning so that I could get involved in HR recruiting, canine decoy, emergency medical effects, etc. And I found really quickly that by putting myself out there, opportunity abounded for me at TSA, and that's where my career took off.”
TSA career progression advice
All the AFSDs benefited from advanced educational degrees, and they strongly advocate for continuing TSA education and mentorship.
Tyler encourages collateral duties as a way to build your skill set. “Think about what are the opportunities that you can not only excel in, but that can challenge you so you’re not only meeting current needs of the position you’re in, but you’re setting yourself up for success for that next challenge.”
Bean touts the many programs offered within TSA for career development. “TSA offers a lot of great programs and resources to assist you in your journey. They all focus on preparing employees for the next step in their career. I’ve benefited from many of those and forever will continue to seek out opportunities to learn.”
Jaehning noted her most beneficial feedback came when she directly sought out mentors from the fields that interested her. “TSA’s mentor program is fantastic. And along the way as I met people, I asked them for help and in guiding me. I think I've been very lucky along the way because I've spoken with my direct managers in trying to get information from them and help them guide me.”
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs
Editor’s note: AFSD-MS Danielle Bean, AFSD-S Jeffrey Tyler and AFSD-G Deborah Jaehning participated in one of a series of Day in the Life panel discussions facilitated by Women Excel@TSA, an employee advocacy council born of the desire to present a unified body of people interested in the retention and cultivation of female talent.