Approaching his 20th anniversary with TSA in September, St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) TSA Officer Brent Atwood has found his niche as a change agent at the grass roots level. His wisdom in effectively communicating with co-workers up and down the chain reaps rewards throughout the agency.
“I’ve had numerous opportunities to be promoted into other positions, but have instead chosen to remain in my current position as a TSA officer,” said Atwood.
He’s currently a union steward, safety officer, passenger support specialist, employee advisory council member and occupies a seat on STL’s travel support team. Atwood has spent six years on the National Deployment Force, serving at over 20 airports and has participated in the Diversity Advisory Council, the Idea Factory [an internal website for innovation and feedback] and STL’s lost and found office.
As a hard-charging advocate for the TSA mission and its people, Atwood has become widely known as a person who gets things done.
“Caring for the wellbeing and fair treatment of my co-workers is something I have always done,” said Atwood of his collateral responsibilities. “Each and every one of these positions are ones I consider my proudest achievement.”
His most recent accomplishment happened earlier this month. As a board member of TSA Pride, a virtual community of employees and contractors interested in LBGTQ+ topics at TSA, Atwood stood with others at TSA Headquarters as the Pride flag was ceremoniously raised.
“It’s truly an honor and a privilege that I was able to attend and be a part of something so truly historic,” said Atwood. “The show of support [to the LBGTQIA+ community] from the Administrator [David Pekoske] and the agency is amazing.”
Atwood sees the flag raising as emblematic of the change working within the agency. He points to the new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) field testing and corresponding gender-neutral verbiage changes as progress.
Currently, AIT screening relies on gender-specific algorithms and a generic physical outline of the human body identical for all passengers. In an enhanced version being field tested, AIT units will function with a gender-neutral algorithm.
“Not having to choose between pressing a pink or blue button [to activate the screening] takes away the guesswork and will be huge in making an uncomfortable situation better for the officers and the passengers,” said Atwood. “It’s all about dignity and screening everyone with respect.”
Making things better hasn’t always been easy, and Atwood has had to find the balance in communicating with management when he’s advocating for a person or a just cause.
“I think the one skill that would have made my professional progress move faster had I learned it sooner would be finding that balance in communicating with management that is both professional and respectful, but also shows confidence without arrogance,” said Atwood. “It’s a fine line that took me years to learn.”
Atwood has never been discriminated against or treated disrespectfully at TSA for being gay, but as a board member of TSA Pride, he’s unfortunately heard other colleagues may not have had such positive experiences. That’s why his work with TSA Pride is so important to him.
“One of our main focuses on the TSA Pride board is to create change,” said Atwood. We provide resources for people who have [bad] experiences so they can get them addressed. That is a very big part of what we are trying to accomplish.”
What does Pride Month mean to you?
It’s a time to celebrate diversity and inclusion. The LGBTQIA+ community is not limited to just lesbian and gay individuals but is home to a vast array of uniqueness and diversity. Pride Month also means family. Having been out and involved in the community since I was 16, I have had the amazing opportunity to meet so many incredible individuals, many of whom I am still in contact with today. They are like family to me.
How diverse and inclusive do you think TSA will be in 10 years?
You will see a lot of change and diversity in leadership. Everyone’s going to be who they are, and no one’s going to care. Inclusiveness will be normal, and everyone will be treated the same.
What I do matters
What I do matters because it shows there is so much more to working for TSA then just being a TSA officer. I feel my actions show by getting out there and being involved. You can have a direct impact helping to create change within our organization.
I feel my actions as a TSA officer matter because I strive to be the best officer I can, and that will help offset any negative views people have about TSA.
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs