During the winter in Nome, Alaska, the sun is only visible for a short amount of time — just over four hours during the winter solstice [December 21]. The sunlight affects everyone a bit differently, but generally when it becomes dark, your circadian rhythms tend to slow down and you eventually turn in for the night.
TSA Officers in Nome must be wired a bit differently because that is when many go home, change clothes and report to their second job. And they are not run-of-the-mill part-time positions.
TSA Officer Joe Lampart has lived in Nome the past five years. Originally from Ironwood, Michigan, he moved to Nome for the hunting and fishing. Lampart is also a community service officer for Nome.
“The duties are very similar to a law enforcement officer, but I don’t have to carry a weapon,” said Lampart. Transporting people to the hospital, assisting with life flight transports, harbor security, and animal control – for musk ox, bears and moose – are just a few of his duties.
“I get to ride ATVs on my patrol. It’s great,” said Lampart. “I even ride escort for the Iditarod finishers when they come up on Front Street mushing towards the finish line.”
Prior to her move to Alaska in 2018, Lead TSA Officer Karen Ecke worked at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Washington County, Maryland. After serving in the U.S. Army Military Police at Ft. Rucker , Alabama, she was recruited by NCS Pearson in 2002 for a job as a TSA screener and the rest is history.
After shopping around for a bit, she decided to move to Nome. “I moved to Nome in April 2018 and brought my dog,” said Ecke. “It was time to move.”
Ecke is a full-time dispatcher with the Nome Police Department working in their new, state-of the-art dispatch center that features multiple screens showing the city limits, harbor, airport and main roads in and out of Nome. She provided this reporter a tour of the watch positions around town.
When asked about living in the Alaskan Bush, Ecke replied, “I like the remoteness of living here in Nome, and the way the community pulls together in time of need. I enjoy the darkness of winter, the total stillness of no sounds when I walk my dog. It is so tranquil. And the everlasting light and sounds the short summers bring! It’s an amazing place to live!”
TSA Officer Bill Randles started his career at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. An Air Force brat living in New Mexico, Virginia, Japan, and Washington, Bill is also a 9-year Air Force veteran in the security services.
Randles moved to Nome in 2011 for better financial opportunities. “I also like the weather,” Randles said. “I prefer snow over the rain and like the small town feeling of Nome.”
After talking it over, Randles said his wife chose to stay in the Seattle area. “She is a big city girl,” he said.
While recovering from an icy fall (not uncommon in Alaska), Randles found a position at the Norton Sound hospital where he works in security.
Anticipating retirement, Randles is working on a 40-foot bus he calls the Denali Tour bus. When asked about the details, his eyes light up with excitement.
“It will be a rolling cabin complete with solar power and totally self-contained — a vacation mobile.”
Starting with TSA at Miami International Airport in 2015, TSA Officer Reynard Upson moved to the Great White North in 2018 citing the increase in pay as his primary motivation.
With a background in security, Upson worked for several years at an aircraft maintenance company in Florida before reporting to Nome.
“I spent time in Kotzebue [Alaska] before transferring to Nome,” said Upson. “Everybody knew everybody in Kotz [Kotzebue] and I liked the weather and the mountains.”
Upson has worked in a full-time security position at the Seaside Center in Nome for the past two years.
With a degree in chemistry, Upson plans to eventually move into the medical field and specialize in pharmacology.
Looking for adventure was Lead TSA Officer David Henderson’s reason for moving to Nome in 2019.
Signing on with TSA in 2002 and spending more than 15 years at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and two more at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Henderson has lived in Alaska for the past three years.
He picked up extra cash with a signing bonus at the Norton Sound Regional Hospital that helped cement his decision to stay in Nome. Henderson is a part-time security guard at the hospital, conveniently located about a mile from the airport.
When asked about the challenges of living in The Bush, Henderson says, “Everyone is real friendly here. After living in a big city, I love small towns.”
In his fourth year in Nome, Henderson looks back on his plan to only stay a few years and then move on. “I only committed to a couple of years, but liked it and wanted to stay on,” said Henderson.
TSA Officer Nikki Sprague transferred from upper Michigan to Nome five years ago.
“I originally moved to Alaska planning to pay off my house and I wanted to travel and explore a bit while I didn't have any serious commitments,” recalled Sprague. “Alaska appealed to me because of the pay of course, but also the opportunity to explore somewhere different.”
Sprague has worked at the Nome Police Department as a communications officer for the past four years. She takes 911 emergency and non-emergency calls and accept calls and radio transmissions for police, medical and fire. “I feel as if I have a really good handle on the things that go on around town, in and out of the public eye,” said Sprague of her jobs. In her spare time she is a full-time student studying criminal justice and emergency management.
A camping and fishing enthusiast, Sprague catches silver salmon right off the shore just a few blocks from town. “Outside of work, I love to travel. I'm always going anywhere possible, at any chance I get,” said Sprague as she recently returned from a temporary assignment in Bethel, Alaska.
Sprague enjoys working for TSA and doesn't have any plans to leave the agency. “I'm an Assistant Training Instructor and work with the training team with TSA and I really enjoy the teaching aspect,” said Sprague. “I believe I may pursue something further with TSA and teaching down the road.”
Editor’s note: Several other TSA officers are employed in the Nome community: Akilah Rodriguez works at Norton Sound Regional Hospital, Marie Balamou has worked at Norton Sound Regional Hospital, Seaside Center and the City of Nome, and Tiffany Ayler spends some of her off-duty time working at the Seaside Center.
By Wayne Carey, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs