Life as a Federal Air Marshal – Allison Pattison

Wednesday, September 15, 2021
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Allison Pattison serves in what she calls a “male-dominated field.” However, she said with the culture in TSA’s Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), being a woman never got in the way of advancing her career.

Pattison is a Federal Air Marshal (FAM), joining the program in May 2003. In March 2020, she was promoted to Supervisory FAM (SFAM) and is the only female in the FAMS Seattle field office.

“I’m very unique in that I’ve never looked at myself as a woman in a male-dominated world,” said Pattison. “I’m an Air Marshal. I don’t really assign a gender to it. I’ve always been treated that way, and I’ve always treated all of my counterparts that way. We’re all equal.”

FAMS on patrol at DCA photo
These Federal Air Marshals patrol Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport during the days leading up to and after the 2021 presidential inauguration. (Photo by Lisa Farbstein)

Pattison supervises a squad of 12 to 20 FAMs and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams, who collaborate with law enforcement and TSA security partners to protect all modes of transportation.

In her leadership role, she considers herself a support system, mentor and guide. Not only is she an SFAM, she’s also a wife and mom who knows the importance of a solid work-life balance.

“When I started in this career field, I was single,” Pattison said. “Now, I’m married. I have a two-year-old son and another one on the way, so things have changed drastically for me. We always believe family comes first. We believe in the mission, but you have to take care of your family, too, because otherwise, you won’t be suited to work the mission. We work with everyone to coordinate schedules. We try to accommodate preferences and rotate, so not everyone is consistently working weekends.”

Pattison admits life can be challenging for TSA’s FAMs, especially those with families.

“Having a family definitely changes things,” she noted. “You’re at the mercy of the airline and Mother Nature, even if you have a schedule.”

FAMS now hiring

The Federal Air Marshal Service is now hiring, inviting interested job seekers to apply through this job opportunity announcement. Pattison encourages both men and women to apply.

Simulated attack photo
Simulated air attack during a Federal Air Marshal Service training session. (Photo from TSA On the Job: Supervisory Federal Air Marshal video)

“There’s nothing [a woman] can’t do that a man can,” emphasized Pattison. “You’re here to do a mission and job. Your schedule will require you to remain flexible and have an understanding family and friend support system.”

She said recruits will go through a 16-week training program, including firearms, self-defense and mission training on an aircraft. The eligibility requirements to be hired as a FAM include being a U.S. citizen or national, 21 to 37 years old (certain exceptions apply to those over 37) and a valid driver’s license.

Pattison offers this advice for recruits interested in a career with FAMS:

“You have to have the proper mindset and an open mindset. Be a sponge and take in everything you’re learning. We work in such a unique environment. Unlike local law enforcement, we can’t call for backup in the air, so you really have to have that mindset that you can get the job done, and you’re ready and willing to get it done.”

That strong mindset comes from the extensive training program, which prepares FAMs to make sound judgments and handle any situation that may arise.

Once you’re hired in as a FAM, Pattison said plenty of career advancement opportunities are available, although she stressed that a FAM willing to relocate has more options.

Even in her 19th year on the job, she still brings a lot of enthusiasm and passion to the job.

“I still believe in the mission, even 20 years after 9/11. I believe we are serving the public. We’ve done a lot of great things, and I’ve seen [TSA] evolve so much that I look forward to where it’s going to go. I look forward to enhancing the agency and keeping it going.”