‘Sky is the limit’ – TSA gives youth VIP treatment, career ideas at BWI

Friday, September 15, 2023
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) Lead TSA Officer Thomas Stein gives some Baltimore students an up close look at TSA’s screening operation at BWI. (TSA BWI photo)

TSA was at the center of a special VIP experience for dozens of Baltimore kids, many of whom may now be considering careers in the transportation world.

Fifty youth, aged 10 to 16, from the city’s recreation centers got a super up close look at TSA’s security operations at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). TSA BWI partnered with the Maryland Aviation Administration Summer Youth Initiative to bring the students into the airport to learn about the ins and outs of TSA.

The kids spent a week exploring aviation industry career opportunities at BWI and Martin State Airport in Middle River, Maryland. Their experience included first-hand security screening demonstrations, meeting TSA canines and learning how the agency’s Explosives Detection Canine program supports TSA’s mission as well as a close look at the Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service (LE/FAMS) and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) operations.

“The BWI Business Partnership, the Maryland Aviation Administration and dozens of stakeholders and industry partners came together to execute the most incredible program and exciting week for our local youth,” said TSA BWI Stakeholder Manager Kristin Katz. “It is partnership at its best!”

Explosives Detection Canine Handler Andrew Walker shows off his canine partner Bistra to Baltimore students during a tour of BWI. (TSA BWI photo)
Explosives Detection Canine Handler Andrew Walker shows off his canine partner Bistra to Baltimore students during a tour of BWI. (TSA BWI photo)

Enthusiasm at the TSA checkpoint

Katz said TSA officers gave the kids a hands-on demonstration of the agency’s security technologies, including Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), the hand-held metal detector (HHMD) and X-ray during a trip through one of BWI’s checkpoints.

“The kids were very intrigued with the AIT when they observed the areas that alarmed on the display monitor and then got to see the items that caused the alarms,” noted Katz. “They also liked performing HHMD screening, observing the X-ray monitor and picking out various items in a carry-on bag.”

Lead TSA Officer Thomas Stein was one of the officers in the middle of the special checkpoint experience and said the kids’ reactions were different based on their ages.

“The younger children’s joyful enthusiasm for what we do was the perfect counterbalance for the thoughtful questions from the older children addressing (TSA) has to do what we do,” Stein said.

“It was fantastic to see the young people’s eyes light up when they observed what the X-ray can do,” BWI TSA Deputy Federal Security Director Grant Goodlett added. “They even had one of our supervisory officers go into the AIT so they could scan her.”

Smiles, not barks, when meeting the canines

The kids learned the importance of trust, training and teamwork between TSA’s canine handlers and their four-legged partners.

After sharing TSA’s mission through the agency’s canine program, BWI Canine Supervisor Kristopher Fry and his team of handlers demonstrated how their dogs identify training aids inside luggage and sniff out possible explosives.

“The smiles on the kids’ faces spoke volumes when they saw the canines,” said Katz. “The kids loved watching the handlers and their canines in action.”

“We hope the opportunity the children had with this program provides them with a better understanding of the career path available to them,” Fry said. “Their destiny starts with the decisions they make today.”

LE/FAMS: Shedding new light on law enforcement

The kids also met with members of the Federal Air Marshal Service, which Assistant Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge Ra Sheed Lemon Sr. felt shed a different light on law enforcement.

“We emphasized one aspect of the LE/FAMS’ mission to prevent another hijacking,” said Lemon. “Many were shy of the ‘police,’ so it was an opportunity to demonstrate law enforcement is still a profession that cares about people while enforcing the law.”

These Baltimore students meet TSA canine Medo and his handler Patrick McGonagle at BWI. (TSA BWI photo)
These Baltimore students meet TSA canine Medo and his handler Patrick McGonagle at BWI. (TSA BWI photo)

Lemon said his team shared with the kids FAMS’ mission to detect, deter and defeat aircraft piracy (terrorism) and introduced them to the VIPR, Joint Terrorism Task Force and LE/FAMS training programs. He believes the kids’ experience introduced and exposed them to federal employment possibilities and who LE/FAMs are as part of TSA.

“The young people were exposed to a diverse group of FAMS personnel with a range of career levels and experience,” Lemon noted. “It gave them a chance to see other law enforcement-type careers. If we as a law enforcement community connect with them, we can inspire them to government service.”

What an experience

The students ended the week with some great memories and a few possible career choices to consider.

“It was good to be a part of giving back to the community by showing our youth group from Baltimore some of the activities our team is involved in daily in our screening operations,” said Goodlett. “It was a great way for them to learn about future potential occupations. They were so attentive to all they were learning, and I think it was an eye-opening experience for them.”

“Bringing the kids out here to the airport – which has so many great opportunities, successful opportunities, with that exposure – it allows them to dream and to plan to pursue the airport as a career opportunity,” added BWI Executive Director/CEO Ricky Smith.

During the 2023 Summer Youth Initiative closing ceremony, Katz accepted an award presented to TSA from the BWI Business Partnership in appreciation of TSA’s support and participation in the program.

Katz said, “TSA BWI Team Maryland hopes we made a difference and helped the youth of Baltimore have an understanding of TSA and why we do what we do and that the sky is the limit on career opportunities in aviation security.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs