Intelligence, explosives, dogs, Federal Air Marshals - teen law enforcement hopefuls see it all at DTW

Thursday, August 31, 2023
Michigan TSA Federal Security Director Reggie Stephens speaks with students from the Detroit Police Prep Academy. (Photo courtesy of TSA DTW)

A career in law enforcement – that’s the dream of 50 Detroit teenagers who got a first-hand look at TSA’s security operations at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW).

The teens, students from the Detroit Police Department Prep Academy, and five of the city’s police officers learned about TSA’s mission and history during a full day of events at the DTW Evans Terminal and the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) Detroit Field Office.

“The Detroit Police Department (DPD) and TSA DTW have always shared a very strong working relationship,” said Michigan TSA Federal Security Director Reggie Stephens. “We have partnered on several initiatives over the years and are in discussions to support the city’s police with the 2024 NFL Draft. The DPD Prep Academy visit was an extension of our enduring collaboration.”

The DPD Prep Academy is a program for students interested in potential law enforcement careers and who perform community service and assist officers at large events.

“This event was a way to introduce and attract students to the various career opportunities at TSA and to show that FAMS and Security Operations are viable career options,” Stephens said. “And with the (agency’s) new pay plan, how ideal is it now to have a career within TSA?”

TSA Canine Handler Chris Eulitz and his partner Alf search for explosives as students from the Detroit Police Prep Academy serve as decoys. (Photo courtesy of TSA DTW)
TSA Canine Handler Chris Eulitz and his partner Alf search for explosives as students from the Detroit Police Prep Academy serve as decoys. (Photo courtesy of TSA DTW)

TSA intelligence

TSA Field Intelligence Officer (FIO) Jonathan Jones brought life to recent history as he explained the importance of TSA gathering intelligence from cases such as the underwear bomber, the Richard Reid shoe plot and the attack on a police officer at Flint Bishop International Airport in 2017.

“The three physical plots caused an impact to transportation in Michigan and shaped how TSA mitigates future threats to transportation,” Jones assessed.

Jones said every part of TSA begins with intelligence, which informs government, public and private decision-makers and helps determine what actions they take to protect the traveling public.

“As an FIO, I share intelligence and information with public and private transportation stakeholders; federal, state and local government partners; TSA headquarters, field leadership and frontline personnel. … It’s always great to have the opportunity to encourage the next generation to get involved in homeland security from a personal or future professional aspect.”

Explosives blew their minds

Transportation Security Specialist-Explosives (TSS-E) Cory Sullenberger and his team gave the students a hands-on look at improvised explosive devices and inert explosives.

“We showed the groups two technologies that detect and identify explosives,” Sullenberger explained. “They thought (the up close look at explosives and how we detect them) was cool. They had never seen what real explosives look like.”

He wanted the teens to realize there are people who want to place bombs on planes, but TSA has explosives specialists to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“I hope they understand the importance of the work performed by TSA to ensure the security and safety of the traveling public. This is the reason TSA has canine and explosives specialists as added layers of security. It would be awesome to one day see them working for TSA as a (screening officer), TSS-E or canine handler.”

Always a crowd favorite - TSA dogs!

The students also enjoyed the fun but an extremely important part of TSA – the agency’s Explosives Detection Canine program.

Wesley Gerwin, a supervisory canine handler, and his team offered an interactive demonstration to show the teens how TSA’s canines detect explosives.

“We showed the kids how our canines detect explosives in a chokepoint formation where the canine uses the air current/flow behind the passenger as the passenger walks through the terminal,” said Gerwin.

“Canine handlers display the ‘cool’ part of Security Operations,” he emphasized. “While there is a ton of responsibility, it’s a fun job. I remember when I was a kid, I always wanted to be a police officer when I grew up. If I had known canine was a job that existed in Security Operations, I may have pursued the TSA route instead of first going into law enforcement and later taking a position with TSA.”

The highlight – the FAMS aircraft simulator experience

Because the students have a heart for law enforcement, their trip to DTW wouldn’t have been complete without an incredible experience with the FAMs. They saw first-hand the rigorous FAMS training requirements. The teens had the opportunity to see how FAMs defend themselves when confronted by an adversary and took part in a mock scenario on an aircraft filled with the piped-in noise of passengers reacting to smoke in the cabin.

“We discussed that it is vitally important for FAMs to use these features during scenarios so they are presented with the most realistic real-world response to an incident,” said Assistant Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge Roberta Vickerman. “Whether you are a young child or an adult, FAM simulators are always a very impressive part of any field office tour. It was definitely the highlight of the day for these kids.”

FAMs didn’t miss the opportunity to promote the great law enforcement career opportunities at TSA.

A student from the Detroit Police Prep Academy enjoys her experience with TSA at DTW. (Photo courtesy of TSA DTW)
A student from the Detroit Police Prep Academy enjoys her experience with TSA at DTW. (Photo courtesy of TSA DTW)

“We believe this is the absolute best time to begin engaging with our future leaders in law enforcement,” said Vickerman. “These teens are beginning to think about what type of profession they would like to have and are starting to shape their plans for what’s next. They were provided an inside look at the importance of our mission, what it means to be a FAM and the importance of having a plan.”

Back-to-school backpacks, partnership

Each student left DTW with great memories, a better understanding of TSA’s operations and a TSA backpack, which Team DTW provided.

“As they return to school this fall and carry the TSA backpacks, I hope they will be reminded of the importance of committing to their studies so they can continue to position themselves for future career opportunities, whether in TSA or the Detroit Police Department,” said Stephens. “We take the responsibility of being an active partner within our community very seriously and view it as an honor to give back and hopefully make a difference with our youth.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs