In a state of emergency, as the Lahaina wildfires consumed life and property, TSA employees from the National Deployment Force (NDF) arrived at Kahului Airport (OGG) on the island of Maui to help screen desperate passengers fleeing the island and backfill for colleagues whose lives were personally touched by the natural disaster.
“Maui may be the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands, but it definitely has the biggest heart,” said TSA officer and National Deployment Office (NDO) team member Jared Dawkins from Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL). “I will remember forever how strong everyone came together without the need to communicate as if we shared the same heartbeat.”
In true Aloha spirit and without hesitation, members of the NDF on deployment at airports on two nearby islands committed to helping the people of OGG, knowing their shifts would be long and the conditions difficult.
“The NDO provides additional support to airports experiencing hiring challenges to assist with local staffing,” said NDO Supervisory Transportation Security Specialist Geoff Shearer. “When the request for support came in from HNL leadership to reroute those assigned to Lihue Airport (LIH) and Kona International Airport (KOA) to OGG, NDO Area Coordinator Justin Bryan and our team worked to make it happen on the day of the request. In this instance, we sent the NDO officers assigned to LIH and KOA to Kahului Airport, but the local officers remained at Lihue to support operations.”
“There were, what seemed like, thousands of individuals who had lost their IDs in the chaos of the fire,” remembered HNL TSA Manager and NDO team member Reimion McBean. “OGG had a special line for those particular individuals to undergo an identity verification process. Normally, such situations are minimal, but due to the situation at hand, this particular line was nonstop, ongoing at all times during airport operations.”
HNL and NDO team member LTSO Sharilyn Requilman’s was honored and privileged to offer her compassionate support.
“From listening to someone who just lost everything in the fires of Lahaina, the gentleman apologizing profusely for having a bag full of burnt items he recovered in seconds, story after story of belongings going up in flames, the desperation in someone's voice because they just want to be somewhere safe, the tears in someone's eyes because they just need your help or support, are the things that make me truly appreciate what I do as a transportation security officer,” said Requilman. “I believe this was the moment I felt so much respect from the traveling public, and I also felt so accomplished about what I could provide and do.”
Expecting to catch a few hours of welcomed shut-eye on a stiff cot after grueling 14- to 16-hour shifts, NDO volunteers were pleasantly surprised to learn hotel rooms were available.
“We were able to shower and sleep in comfort,” said a grateful McBean.
A warm shower and a soft bed aside, McBean wouldn’t have minded more austere conditions.
“Prioritizing the mission over personal comfort is not just an act of altruism, but a reflection of our shared humanity,” said McBean. “It underscores the value of empathy, bravery and compassion in times of crisis. In mission critical situations, lives are at stake and every second matters.”
Further evidence of care came from Kahului Airport financial specialists and managers.
“I am certain the OGG team was worried about the safety and wellness of ‘Ohana’ (extended family) and friends throughout the island, yet they still managed to share the Aloha spirit with us by providing meals for the team,” said HNL Supervisory TSA Officer and NDO member Gina Ramos.
The Lahaina wildfires NDO deployment lasted two days with 12 TSO volunteers from HNL and LIH assigned to OGG.
“Every member of the team brought unique skills and strengths to the table, and together, we achieved what seemed insurmountable individually,” said McBean. “This experience reinforced the profound impact of collaboration, reminding me of the incredible things that can be accomplished when a group of individuals comes together with a common purpose, exemplifying the power of teamwork in the most challenging circumstances.”
HNL Lead TSA Officer and NDF member Catherine Cicak recalls what it felt like to be a part of the humanitarian effort.
“What I remember most and will take with me from OGG is the complete devastation on the (faces of the) people coming through, the way they looked to us to offer any hope, yet with all of that, the complete sense of community and coming together from tourists and locals alike.”
It was an all-hands-on-deck effort. Thirty-two OGG team members worked tirelessly to support the screening operations.
“Without hesitation, members of the TSA Hawaii team stepped up and stepped in to help their colleagues who were impacted in any way by the Lahaina fires. Their swift response was selfless and immediate,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Hawaii and the Pacific Nanea Vasta. “I continue to be amazed at the kindness our employees show each other. I am honored to be part of such a generous and kind group of employees.”
Recovery in Lahaina continues.
“Ongoing landscaping issues are still going on. Some officers have spent thousands of dollars to remove burnt debris,” said OGG TSA Manager Lance Kunioka. “A supervisory TSA officer who lost everything still has not found a place for her family and still is in need of basics. When they find a place, they’ll need furniture.”
“Prioritizing the mission demonstrates a profound commitment to helping others in their most vulnerable moments,” added McBean. “It requires selflessness, courage, and a dedication to a greater cause. For me, it is my moral duty. By making this choice, I not only make a significant impact in individuals’ lives, but also inspire others to do the same.”
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs