Top TSA officers battle at national TSO Olympics

Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Team Downstate IL photo

Some of the nation’s top TSA officers (TSOs) battled each other while putting their knowledge and skills to the test at the national TSO Olympic Games in Chicago.

O’Hare and Midway International Airports hosted the big event with screening officers from Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Hawaii and the Pacific territories, and Washington Dulles International Airport competing for gold. TSOs, lead TSOs and supervisory TSOs battled.

Team Indiana photo
Team Indiana earns runner-up at the 2022 TSO Olympics. Team members are pictured with Indiana TSA Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Kevin Bidwell (left). (Photo by Talitha Matulac)

“The TSO Olympics were founded on the principle of advancing officers’ knowledge, skills, abilities and training through a challenging friendly competition and rewarding those officers who train hard and excel in essential officer skills,” said O’Hare TSA Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director Steven Brown.

Each event was designed to challenge competitors in all areas of screening, equipment skills, standard operating procedures (SOP) knowledge and included:

  • Checkpoint screening competition – Complex scenarios where team members staffed a security lane, screened 20 role players and bags, and were awarded points for correctly processing them. This challenged their skills on X-ray, pat-downs including passengers with disabilities, medical device screening, bag search, explosives trace detection and colorimetrics (using color analysis to look for prohibited items).
  • Checked baggage competition – Image test followed by a series of bag search procedures with competitors either gaining or losing points.
  • Final Round – Jeopardy type quiz show involving the top three teams from the checkpoint and checked baggage rounds. This round challenged their SOP and knowledge-based skills and procedures.
Team Pacific photo
Hawaii TSA Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Nanea Vasta (second from left) celebrates with Team Pacific who came in third place. (Photo by Talitha Matulac)

“The TSO Olympics truly advances TSO knowledge on skills and procedures,” Brown said. “It encourages them to want to learn and win in a competition and be rewarded for those skills. It’s effective, and the officers who compete gain knowledge they will retain as opposed to just sitting in front of a computer or listening to a PowerPoint lecture.”

All of the participants took away lifelong memories from the Olympics.

“It was a very memorable experience,” said Nyssa O’Neil, a supervisory TSA officer from Peoria International Airport who competed on the Downstate Illinois team. “It brought together multiple airports in Illinois to compete as a team.”

“This was a positive experience with great opportunities to network with like-minded individuals and to test the officers’ knowledge and skills to the best of their abilities,” added Indianapolis International Airport Training Instructor Christopher Mercado.

Team Downstate Illinois took home the gold with Team Indiana the runner-up and Team Pacific finishing third.

In 2021, only Illinois TSA officers competed against each other, but the Olympics were expanded this year, and Brown hopes it continues growing.

“My hope is to rename the competition the TSA Administrator’s Cup Challenge,” he said. “I would like to see the creation of an Expert Officer badge, which would be awarded to a small percentage of officers who excel at a (training-based) and skills challenge. Those officers who are awarded the Expert Officer badge would then compete in a series of quarterly competitions, and the winners would compete in the final TSA Administrator’s Cup Challenge.”
Brown credits O’Hare TSA explosives expert Brett Murphy for creating and managing this year’s competition and believes the friendly competition strongly aligns with the TSA Strategy “Commit to Our People.”

“The Olympics help create a more skilled workforce that is better prepared to meet the challenging threat,” Brown noted. “Through this competition, we improve officer esprit de corps and challenge their abilities on threat items and threat scenarios.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs