Career Stories

Inside the Life of a TSA Officer (Including What It’s Like to Work at a Presidential Inauguration)

Brent Atwood, a Transportation Security Officer at the TSA.
Brent Atwood, a Transportation Security Officer at the TSA.

Not many people can say they’ve worked at three presidential inaugurations, a papal visit, and a hurricane relief mission. But Brent Atwood has done all of this and more as a Transportation Security Officer at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

While his everyday duties include screening passengers and their belongings to make sure nothing dangerous makes it onboard planes, he has raised his hand for a number of voluntary roles within the TSA. His proudest achievement yet? Being a part of the TSA’s first-ever Pride flag raising ceremony at the main headquarters. 

While Atwood values the many professional opportunities available at the TSA, he has remained in his role for another reason as well: “After 20 years working with a lot of the same people, we’ve become like a family,” he says. “It would be hard to leave them.”

Here, Atwood shares why he was inspired to become a TSA Officer, how the organization’s Pride employee resource group is making history, and how working at airports all over the U.S. has impacted his life.

What initially attracted you to apply for a position at the TSA?

I was working for a temp agency when 9/11 happened. I remember having a TV in the office and watching the news coverage from the time the first plane hit the towers and then for weeks afterwards. I have always been a very patriotic person, so when I heard about this new agency being created, I jumped at the chance to apply and do a service for my country.

What are some of the achievements you’re most proud of?

I would definitely say that working three presidential inaugurations ranks among my top achievements. Something else I’m proud of is that throughout the years, I have been able to meet many of the administrators we have had at the TSA. That is something not a lot of TSA Officers can say.

However, I think of all my achievements with the TSA, the one that stands out the most for me is that I was able to be part of the Pride flag raising ceremony held at the TSA headquarters to celebrate Pride month. It was the first time the TSA raised the flag in its 20-year history.

Speaking of Pride, tell us about your involvement in the TSA’s LGBTQIA+ employee resource group. What impact does it have on employees?

One of the founders of TSA Pride knew me from serving together on another council at the TSA headquarters and reached out about coming onboard as a founding board member. It’s been an amazing journey. 

TSA Pride impacts employees by offering them resources and a safe space to connect with other LGBTQIA+ colleagues. Members can connect via social media on the TSA Pride Facebook page or during the monthly “mixers” that are held virtually via Zoom.

What kinds of other TSA programs and activities do you participate in?

It did not take me long to realize that there were numerous extracurricular activities that I could get involved with. Some of the activities I’ve been able to participate in include serving on my airports’ Employee Advisory Council, being part of the emergency response travel team, working in the TSA lost and found office, numerous trips to the TSA headquarters in Washington, D.C. for various details, and serving as a Union (AFGE) Steward.

What was it like to work at such important events like presidential inaugurations and a papal visit?

Working so closely with the Secret Service at these events was such an amazing experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity. For the inaugurations, it was rough being outside in the extreme cold all day, and we were definitely out of our element. It was nothing like working screening in an airport. In the end, though, I loved every minute of it.

What is a misconception about working for the TSA and how would you respond?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that the TSA is considered the “black sheep” of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and that other DHS agencies look down on us. I have never found that to be the case. I have had the opportunity to work side by side with many different DHS agencies during the inaugurations, the papal visit, and hurricane relief. I have never found these other agencies to be anything but professional and great to work with.

What makes the TSA a great place to work?

For me personally, it’s about the sense of being a family. We look out for each other. We take care of each other. I’ve met some of the most amazing people working for the TSA.

In addition, the TSA provides the good benefits of a government job, and also offers numerous opportunities, such as the National Deployment Force ((the mobile team of TSA Officers) for those who like to travel.

Tell us about your experience working in 20 different airports across the country. How have you benefited from living in so many places?

Each place was its own unique adventure. I have worked in airports of all sizes, from tiny airports like Barrow, Alaska, to huge airports like Washington Dulles in D.C. As an individual, I benefited by being able to experience and learn from so many different cultures—such as the Inupiat Eskimos in Alaska—and then incorporate those experiences into both my professional and personal lives. I also had the chance to meet and become friends with so many wonderful people.

What would you say is the biggest perk of your job?

I’m definitely a people person. I love meeting people and making new friends, so for me, the biggest perk is everyone I get to work with. Another has been the opportunity to travel. Being on the National Deployment Force, I have gotten to visit some amazing places. Though I’m there to work and it’s not a vacation, I still get time off to get out and enjoy myself.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t be afraid to get involved. Be a part of the solution.