The sound of a pager going off is a 9/11 trigger for New Mexico Federal Security Director Jesse Sanchez.
“I was working for Gateway Computers, and when we weren’t training, I would lend the computer lab out to local law enforcement.” That week, FBI agents from around the country joined state and local authorities for a week-long cyber security training.
“There was one moment that morning when every single pager in the room went off,” recalled Sanchez, pausing briefly to compose himself. “To this day, when I hear that kind of noise it bothers me.”
Although accomplished in his corporate career, Sanchez felt listless and contemplated a more meaningful professional direction.
“Joining TSA was a calling I needed to pursue,” said Sanchez, adding, “It wasn’t for the money. I was offered a salary increase to stay in my former job.” Sanchez took a significant pay cut servicing TSA and its mission.
Joining TSA in 2002, Sanchez was a supervisory TSA officer for the mobile screening force federalizing airports. Based out of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, he saw various airports join the TSA enterprise and overcome challenges that were unique to each location. “We adapted to each individual challenge,” said Sanchez of the early years of the agency.
Driven to coach
As Federal Security Director (FSD), Sanchez sees his value to the mission as a coach and mentor.
“I’m not just giving people directions that make them effective practitioners, but I am providing them with training, mentoring and tools to be leaders who can foresee operational challenges and create innovative solutions.”
Sanchez was on the receiving end of help early on. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a single mother of modest means, Sanchez spoke only Spanish until first grade. A teacher’s aide offered free tutoring after school until he became proficient in English spelling and pronunciation.
“Having [the aide] take the opportunity to help me grow is part of why I do what I do today,” mused Sanchez. “If you want to receive, you have to give.”
Sanchez offers three pieces of heartfelt guidance to every new officer: come to TSA with an open mind, seize the various opportunities that are available and always be willing to learn. “Remain open-minded and take advantage of career and educational opportunities,” he said. “They will lay the foundations for your future success and provide you with a long and valuable career.”
Hispanic culture welcomes diversity
Tracing his family lineage back to the first conquistadors who settled New Mexico, Sanchez is proud of his roots and home state, which he enthusiastically points out “is a melting pot rich with diversity.”
The Pueblo and Navajo tribal history, Spanish influences, the Sikh community of Northern New Mexico, along with a fiercely independent ranching culture are evident in the state’s unique art and music. The airport building and grounds of Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) boasts an impressive indigenous art collection.
“Food is the catalyst in all that we do as a culture,” said Sanchez. But rather than present just one style, Albuquerque’s food scene is a fusion of the best of many cultures.
“Respecting other cultures is what makes the Hispanic culture here so inviting and welcoming. It’s how we celebrate special occasions. Come to think of it, it can be just because it’s Wednesday!”
Approximately 35% of TSA team members at ABQ are at least conversationally bilingual. “What is perhaps most interesting is hearing all the different dialects represented by our Spanish speakers, reflecting the subcultures they come from,” said Sanchez.
What I do matters
I establish an environment that allows individuals and teams to grow and thrive within TSA. I mentor, coach and educate employees to achieve their career goals. I like to use the phrase, “We don’t get you ready for the position you are in, but for the next position above you.” I am proud to have a list of mentees who have grown to be Deputy Assistant FSDs, Assistant FSDs, FSDs and others who have become Senior Executive Service employees in the broader DHS enterprise.
By investing in people and helping them grow, I am part of the network that is increasing the security of the homeland.