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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Updated: TSA Recognizes the Best With Annual Awards

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has named George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), in Houston, as its 2020 Airport of the Year in its annual awards ceremony. The TSA honorary awards recognize the agency’s highest performers and teams of 2020. Due to COVID-19, the awards were announced virtually this year by TSA Administrator David Pekoske from agency headquarters in Springfield, Virginia. 

Airport of the Year

In previous years only one airport was named as the TSA Airport of the Year. This year four airports were recognized with the accolade. George Bush International Airport (IAH) in Houston, Miami International Airport (MIA) in Florida, Mahlon Sweet Field-Eugene Airport (EUG) in Oregon and Akron-Canton Airport (CAK) in Ohio.

“The TSA team in Houston consists of more than 1100 employees from frontline TSA officers to inspectors, canine handlers, explosives experts, managers, program analysts and a host of others who work together every single day of the year to ensure that we protect the traveling public to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce,” said Juan Sanchez, TSA’s Federal Security Director for IAH. “Our team comprised of TSA officers and others demonstrate their commitment daily through their hard work, professionalism and commitment.”

Sanchez also emphasized the successful partnership that TSA has with the Houston Airport System, the City of Houston Police Department, the airlines and more than 800 federal, state and local stakeholder groups that comprise the more than 20,000 people who work at the airport, as being key to the success of TSA at the airport.

“We are honored to be named TSA’s 2020 Airport of the year,” Houston Airports Director Mario Diaz said. “On behalf of the entire team at Bush Airport and the traveling public, I also congratulate the George Bush Intercontinental Airport TSA team for their invaluable commitment to safety and efficiency throughout this challenging year. We truly appreciate their unwavering dedication to their duties.”  

TSA also selected IAH as Airport of the Year in 2019, making this the second consecutive year that IAH receives this recognition. The award recognizes the best of TSA with outstanding team achievements in key operations and mission support functions. The work will have resulted in measurable improvements, superior performance, notable innovation, and significant operational improvements in support of TSA’s mission. Awardees demonstrate a clear commitment to improving workforce engagement and morale.

On the heels of a successful year in 2019, IAH continued its operational tempo in 2020, despite the COVID-19 environment. IAH leadership and staff, worked to preserve a safe and secure business environment for all airport employees and travelers. From the onset of fiscal year 2020, IAH leadership communicated a deliberate framework aligned to the TSA Strategy and Administrator’s Intent. This organizational blueprint was later amended to meet the needs of staff and traveling public in the COVID-19 operating environment. Consequently, IAH pursued multiple organizational themes that became deeply ensconced throughout 2020.

2020 is the second time that MIA has received the TSA Airport of the Year honor.

“The Airport of the Year award is one that is emblematic of the entire airport community,” said Miami Federal Security Director Dan Ronan. “Even though the award is for the TSA Miami workforce, we could not have received that recognition if it were not for the incredible partnerships we have with Miami-Dade Aviation Department, Miami-Dade Police Department, Miami-Dade Fire Department, Customs and Border Protection and the airlines.”

TSA MIA faced a year of challenges: preparing for and responding to the increased and record-breaking passenger loads during the 2019 holidays and after the Super Bowl; installation of and training on new technology equipment, including 10 computed tomography (CT) machines, Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) units at every checkpoint, and new robotic baggage movers incorporated into a new in-line screening system; and the worldwide pandemic.

TSA Miami also flawlessly completed the transition of and achieved full operational capability in a new South/Central in-Line project – one of the largest in TSA history. The new $324million state-of-the-art, fully automated, baggage handling system features 102 mobile inspection tables – one of the world’s largest airport installations of automated guided vehicle technology. The new facility doubles the speed and capacity of the previous system.

TSA MIA’s screening efforts also received accolades in the annual JD Power survey of airports and TSA MIA’s partnership with the airport resulted in MIA being one of two airports to receive Airports Council International’s accreditation for COVID-19 control measures.

Other special efforts by TSA Miami included “boot camp” immersion training created for officers promoted into roles with more responsibility to bring them up to speed rapidly and additional training and deployment opportunities for the MIA-based TSA K9 teams. TSA K9 teams helped secure the Super Bowl and Homestead NASCAR racing.

MIA’s Transportation Security Explosives team trained 855 TSA and stakeholder personnel through classroom instruction, covert drills and shift briefings and trained with local LEOs for bomb prevention and response. During the pandemic, TSA MIA worked with all partners to meet the challenges of keeping passengers and employees across the realm of aviation safe. Acrylic barriers were installed along with other elements to keep the checkpoint experience as touchless as possible.

“The success of the entire operation, while meeting challenges well above and beyond normal years,” said Ronan, “reflects the dedication and sincere commitment that the entire TSA MIA team has toward each other and the TSA mission.”

TSA MIA Transportation Security Manager (TSM) Breanna Dryden also received the National TSA Honorary Award for Manager of the Year. “The award appropriately reflects the efforts TSM Dryden displayed in fostering critical agency goals in the areas of threat detection, TSA Coordination Center operations, and workforce engagement,” said Ronan.

Mahlon Sweet Field (EUG) in Eugene, Oregon, was recognized as the top airport of its size for outstanding local leadership, commitment to empowering employees and working with stakeholders to ensure a superior passenger experience for the traveling public. 

Each year, EUG welcomes the world’s best track and field athletes for the annual Steve Prefontaine Classic and every four years, EUG hosts the Olympic Trials for track and field. The city of Eugene is also home to the University of Oregon. The number of special and high profile events that often begin and end at the airport require that TSA and the airport stakeholder community remain constantly engaged.

TSA at EUG has developed an initiative named “Building Effective EUG Security” or BEES to focus on security awareness and engagement across the airport community. They have initiated training opportunities with live fire explosive demonstrations, raised awareness about human trafficking and supported “Stop the Bleed,” which is an effort to place trauma kits in designated locations throughout the airport terminal. 

Beyond the security mission, the EUG TSA team was recognized for protecting the safety, security and well-being of passengers, airport employees and the TSA team during the dual crises experienced during the summer months. With wildfires raging in the area and the coronavirus pandemic disrupting daily life, the EUG TSA team never wavered in its leadership, commitment, and passion for each other and the public.

In November, Akron-Canton Airport finalized its $37 million gate modernization project, the last element of a 10-year, $115 million capital improvement campaign. CAK was the first Ohio Airport to achieve Airport Council International’s Global Health Accreditation for pandemic measures.

“I am proud of the Akron-Canton team that consists of more than 70 employees who are all deserving of the 2020 TSA’s Airport of the Year Category II-IV Award,” said Don Barker, TSA Federal Security Director for Ohio. During the pandemic, this team of professionals used focus groups to have periodic discussions and team activities to promote personal responsibility by every member of the organization. I appreciate their hard work, professionalism and commitment.”

After receiving the results of the 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), the CAK airport team decided to take steps to improvement the workplace. A cross-functional focus group was formed and addressed the survey results using continuous improvement procedures.

The airport team encouraged its coworkers to participate in the annual FEVS and over 80% of the workforce responded. The survey resulted in establishing a focus group addressing the concerns in the four categories of Leaders Lead, Merit Systems Principles, Performance Recognition & Reward, and Training & Development. The focus group’s efforts resulted in assigning the specific action items to individuals or teams with a specific projected due date for each item. The action plan was made visible to the workforce for transparency and to help the team hold each other accountable.

As part of the CAK team’s ‘It Starts with Me’ campaign, coworkers reaffirmed their Oath of Office. The campaign included periodic discussions and team activities promoting personal responsibility by every member of the organization. A communication board in the breakroom was formed, a software upgrade recommendation for screening technology was made and implemented which impacted approximately seventy-five airports nationwide, and a scheduling committee was formed to provide key input to the scheduling process.

TSA Officer of the Year

From all the many excellent TSA officers (or TSOs), Kimberlee Green from Pocatello Regional Airport (PIH) has been selected as national TSO of the Year. This award recognizes integrity and professionalism as well as contributions made by the TSO to the overall efficiency of the security operations as well as their commitment to TSA and its partners.

TSO Green has been with TSA since 2011. Nominated by her co-workers, she was described as a mentor and innovator who has developed procedures to improve the operation locally and throughout Idaho. There are approximately 40,000 TSOs nationwide and TSO Green is the sole recipient of this award in 2020.

“It has been my great privilege to work with hundreds of fantastic TSA employees over the years, many of whom were worthy of high honors and recognition. However, it was not at all surprising to me that TSO Kimberlee Green is the 2020 winner of TSA’s most prestigious prize for teamwork, excellence and dedication to the mission,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Idaho Andy Coose. “Her smiling face and engaging sense of humor make her instantly relatable to co-workers and passengers alike. And, her “can-do” attitude means that everyone knows she will do whatever it takes to get the job done right. As TSO of the Year, she earned the right to be the “face” of the TSA officer corps over the next 12 months because she stands for the very best of what TSA officers do here at Pocatello Regional Airport and across the nation every day.”

In addition to being a knowledgeable TSO who is committed to ensuring the highest level of security screening at PIH, she has taken on additional administrative collateral duties. This includes serving as the TSA stakeholder liaison with airport leadership and the airport community as well as handling sensitive payroll and employee performance tracking matters.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, TSO Green has continued to be a reliable co-worker and key asset. She proactively anticipates staffing needs to ensure TSA operations run smoothly despite the recent unpredictability of air travel.

TSO Green has spent most of her TSA career at PIH. She has also worked at Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport in Rock Springs, Wyoming. 

Transportation Security Specialist for Explosives of the Year

Shane Langerud, an explosive specialist with the agency, has been selected as the 2020 Transportation Security Specialist for Explosives (TSSE) of the Year. This award recognizes the top technical expert on improvised explosive devices and other threats to transportation security.

TSSE Langerud has been with TSA since 2018. Nominated by his co-workers, he was described as overwhelmingly dedicated to the agency’s mission as well as performing his duties in an exceptional manner to the benefit of the traveling public. He is the sole recipient of this national award in 2020.

“Because explosives are known to be the greatest threat to transportation security, the role of TSSE is critical in our daily operations. TSSE Langerud has developed realistic explosive training programs to help TSA employees and our security partners prepare for emerging threats,” said TSA Federal Security Director for North Dakota David Durgan. “His innovative approach to security is second to none and we are proud to have him on our team.”

As the only certified indirect trainer in North Dakota for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Bombing Prevention, Langerud has initiated a campaign among the state’s law enforcement agencies to raise awareness of the threats posed by Improvised Explosive Devices. He has also developed an interactive, computer-based explosives training curriculum used by more than 200 TSA officers across eight airports in North Dakota. 

TSSE Langerud earned his Doctor of Management degree from Colorado Technical University where his studies were focused on organizational development and change. He is currently completing his Master of Education degree from the University of North Dakota focusing on instructional design and technology.

Prior to his current position at TSA, Shane served for 21 years in the U.S. Marine Corps where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and numerous other decorations for combat-related accomplishments. 

Federal Security Director of the Year

TSA Federal Security Director (FSD) for Oregon Stephen Taber was named national FSD of the Year. As FSD, Taber is responsible for all TSA operations in Oregon and is based at Portland International Airport. He is the sole recipient of this award in 2020.

FSD Taber was recognized for skillfully leading Team Oregon through a challenging year that included keeping the traveling public healthy and secure during the spread of COVID-19. He consistently addressed evolving operational needs while balancing employee needs, all without compromising security.

FSD Taber is known as a leader who seeks feedback from employees to improve screening operations and encourages innovation that has been replicated at airports across the country. As a former TSA officer himself, FSD Taber’s depth of knowledge of the TSA operation is invaluable in working with stakeholders to strengthen their shared security mission. He can frequently be seen in the security checkpoint engaging with the employees and helping out as needed.

Despite being evacuated from his home due to the summer wildfires in Oregon, FSD Taber was at work every day to support the local TSA team. He also plays a key role among federal agencies in Oregon, serving as Chair of the Oregon Federal Executive Board, leading a coordinated federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the state. 

Passenger Support Specialist of the Year 

Portland International Airport registered another award as TSA Officer Naomi Eckstine was named Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) of the Year. In this role, she was recognized for providing exemplary and unparalleled service to travelers who require special accommodations or are concerned about the security screening process. She is the sole recipient of this award in 2020.

TSO Eckstine who works at PDX initiated a “Better to Best” training for other TSA employees to encourage top-notch customer service to travelers. She also is the point of contact for the local USO and she coordinates participation by the local TSA honor guard to support ceremonies for the return of Fallen Heroes to Oregon. TSO Eckstine oversees special programs within TSA including Adopt-A-Family and Feds Feed Families as well as extending her external stakeholder activities to efforts like Make-A-Wish, Snowball Express and Toys for Tots. 

Canine Handler of the Year

Explosive Detection Canine Handler Keith Gray of Indianapolis International Airport (IND) was recognized for his extraordinary contributions in promoting the transportation security mission and TSA strategy. His two operational partners this year included TTirado, a Labrador Retriever, and Ari, a German Shorthaired Pointer. Gray and TTirado were partners from March 2012 until June of this year. He is the sole recipient of this national award in 2020.

“I am honored to be named TSA’s 2020 Canine Handler of the Year,” Gray said. “I appreciate the help and support of my team at the Indianapolis International Airport including my previous operational partner now retired TTirado, and my current operational K-9 Ari. It’s a great feeling to be recognized nationally and I’m sure we will never forget this moment.”  

Gray worked to achieve the highest level performance of their duties. His contributions demonstrated the utmost integrity and professionalism while adding value to the Department of Homeland Security, TSA, stakeholders, and to their position. Gray was the lead recruiter for the airport’s multi-agency joint training K-9 event which assembled over 100 handlers from around the country. He worked on this event in his off-duty time and created a professional flyer which is distributed throughout the K-9 community.

“We are all excited for Keith and his canine partners, TTirado and Ari, on winning such a prestigious award as TSA’s 2020 Canine Handler of the Year,” said Aaron Batt, TSA’s Indiana Federal Security Director. “Throughout the year, Keith participated in a two-dog pilot program where he trained his new, uncertified partner Ari, while simultaneously working alongside his operational partner TTirado, so there were no gaps in their operational capabilities.”

TTirado was an explosive detection canine at the airport before retiring from TSA in June after an impressive eight-year career and has been adopted by Gray’s family. Ari is Gray’s current operational partner.

In the Line of Duty Award

Honoring the memory, service and sacrifice of TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez, this award recognizes employees who distinguish themselves through bravery, valor and heroism in the line of duty. Hernandez was killed in the line of duty at Los Angeles International Airport on November 1, 2013.

The 2020 award recognizes a team from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. In October 2019, this team ignored personal risk and responded to the scene of a burning plane crash on the runway. They provided aid to survivors and assisted first responders. The team includes Steven Blindbury, Thomas Gannon, Burke Doria, Faustino Colon, Joel Ketchale and Peter Coombs.

Norman Y. Mineta Cornerstone Award

Each year, this award recognizes and honors the leadership legacy of former Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Mineta was instrumental in establishing what TSA is today.

The 2020 Norman Y. Mineta Cornerstone Award recipient is Patricia Bradshaw, the TSA assistant administrator for human capital. Bradshaw is recognized for exemplary leadership in helping TSA fulfill its mission by fostering a diverse, inclusive and transparent work environment and cultivating a skilled workforce prepared and equipped to meet future challenges. She led a transition within human capital that reinvigorated a spirit of camaraderie, cooperation and customer service, noticeable to stakeholders across the agency.

Public Service Award

The Public Service Award recognizes those with a commitment and dedication to protect the public trust and provide exemplary service.

The 2020 award recipient is Katherine Coyle, a TSA training instructor at the TSA Academy. She has a penchant for serving others on the job and as a volunteer. In her role with TSA, she prepared new training security officers for success in their new jobs at TSA. As a volunteer, Coyle serves as director at the Marcia Brady Tucker Foundation, which her great-grandmother established in 1942. Additionally, she volunteers at House of Hope, which is dedicated to caring for girls rescued from human trafficking, and Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation.

Dallas-Fort Worth TSA Workforce Receives Multiple Awards

In other awards, the TSA workforce at Dallas-Fort Worth performed very well as a total of ten employees from the airport were recognized in four award categories. These included the airport’s COVID-19 Response Team: Robert Nunnery, Carl Glusick, Gary King, Michael Vickerman, Jeremy Motley, John Reed, Dunk Hall and Chancey Scott. In addition, the Blogger Bob Award went to Crystal Cherry. Robert Nunnery won the Core Values Award, and the Innovation Award was awarded to Jorge Perez.

Other TSA Awards for excellence in 2020 include:

  • Unsung Hero Award for outstanding “behind-the-scenes” performance: Darryl Rogers from Jacksonville International Airport, Constance Tonu from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Susan Bowen from TSA headquarters, Rudolph Selitsch from the National Transportation Vetting Center, Nicole Renner from Bismarck Municipal Airport, and Kevin Wolinski from TSA headquarters
  • Lead TSO of the Year: Matthew Quintana from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  • Supervisory TSO of the Year: Steven Petrokovitch from Yuma International Airport
  • Coordination Center Employee of the Year: Maria Morelli of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport
  • Assistant Federal Security Directors (FSD) of the Year: Dawn Baptist of Fairbanks International Airport and Bill Hamilton of Norfolk International Airport
  • Deputy FSD of the Year: Anne Cross from Denver International Airport
  • Inspector of the Year: Gregory Smith from Juneau International Airport
  • Federal Air Marshal (FAM) of the Year: Gerino Laqui from LE/FAMS San Francisco Field Office
  • Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge (SAC) of the Year: Steven Petrick from LE/FAMS, TSA headquarters
  • Supervisory FAM or Assistant SAC of the Year: Bradley Curtis of LE/FAMS Chicago, Illinois
  • Management, Administrative or Professional Employees of the Year: Dr. Fabrice Czarnecki from Human Capital/Enterprise Support and Jill Segraves of Security & Administrative Services/Enterprise Support
  • Security Training Instructor of the Year: Amber Powell from Peoria International Airport
  • Intelligence Analyst of the Year: Greg Wright from Intelligence and Analysis at Denver International Airport
  • National Deployment Force Officer of the Year: Albert Stallcup from Security Operations Management in Orlando, Florida

DHS Pandemic Heroism Award

In addition to the TSA awards, the Department of Homeland Security awarded the agency-wide Award for Pandemic Heroism to the TSA team at LaGuardia Airport.

“Team LaGuardia” won for its display of uncommon bravery and dedication during the pandemic. Despite its proximity to the nation’s pandemic epicenter, TSA personnel continued to report to the airport daily, overcoming obstacles such as the subways closing due to the pandemic and rioting and civil disorder, which broke out in May. During the pandemic, the TSA group opened a state-of-the-art 17-lane security checkpoint in the newly constructed Terminal B in June, assisted neighboring airports with critical staffing and supplies and found time to assist with food and essential item distribution for the city’s homeless population.

“During the pandemic, Team LaGuardia truly exemplified the meaning of selfless public service and symbolized the true essence of TSA and DHS,” said Robert Duffy, TSA’s Federal Security Director for LaGuardia Airport. “Despite the dangerous commuting conditions on the city’s mass transit system and a local healthcare system paralyzed by the virus, Team LaGuardia helped guarantee that New York City’s top domestic airport, located at the nation’s pandemic epicenter, remained open,” Duffy said.

At the outset of the pandemic, the TSA team at LaGuardia formed a special task force to centralize workforce messaging, distribute personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and coordinated workspace cleansing and disinfecting and employee health status tracking and reporting.

During the first few months of the pandemic, the TSA team opened the new 17-lane security checkpoint and associated in-line checked baggage screening system featuring a sophisticated baggage conveyor system with a luggage conveyor belt system of approximately 17,000 feet (the equivalent of 18 city blocks) with 55 robotic mobile inspection stations. The new equipment required the personnel to complete 12,000 hours of specialized security equipment training within 90 days. The team also orchestrated the delivery and installation of 180,000 pounds of office furniture; relocated personnel to office space in the new terminal and oversaw the decommissioning of the older screening equipment.

“Throughout every phase of the pandemic and opening of the new checkpoint, our team performed its security mission without a single security incident or notable passenger wait time at any checkpoint,” Duffy pointed out.


This story was updated on December 15 to include the additional awards announced by TSA on December 14.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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