Monday, February 25, 2008

Former Air Marshal & War Vet – Will Work for Food

As the time draws near to my going home from Iraq, I’m a bit concerned about where I’ll work. I don’t have a job lined up or a steady income. The stress of looking for work in order to provide for my family is terrible. Sure, I could get a contract carrying a gun here in Iraq or in Afghanistan as a U.S. government private security contractor, but I want to go home. Besides, that’s not too appealing anyway.

As I think about how I’ve ended up in this precarious situation, I feel there’s a lot the citizens of America should know.

Those who serve in the Military Reserves are often shunned in the workplace. They are often surreptitiously passed up for promotion and job opportunities. Sure, it’s illegal for anyone to do that, but I’m telling you, it happens. Something similar happened to me.

Serving three years as an undercover Federal Air Marshal (FAM) was interesting, to say the least. My first and only experience as a Federal employee, aside from my military service was, frankly, rotten. I saw corruption, abuse of authority, in-fighting and foolish government practices. I saw nepotism and unfair treatment. Who would of thunk it? Yeap, our federal government has some serious issues. The worst part of all is the airports and airlines still aren’t safe!

Things were so terrible at the end of three years with the FAM Service that I wanted to do anything—anything—other than work as a government employee. I finally got an opportunity to be self-employed, and I secured a promising contract with a U.S. government customer. However, when the Reserves called me up, I lost the opportunity I was told would have been perpetual. The government has mandated that any Military Reservist who is called to go to war MUST receive their same job when they return. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to those who are self-employed…even if it is for a U.S. government customer.

Heck, I only stayed in the Reserves because the cost for family health insurance for those who are self-employed in America is totally outlandish! So much for the government wanting to help more American’s become entrepreneurs! Now I’m getting side-tracked. Where was I? Oh, yes…

The last terrible thing that occurred to me before leaving the Federal Air Marshal Service had to do with my being in the Military Reserves. I was told by my direct supervisor, Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge, Bill K….., that I could NOT go to my scheduled military drill which was held on the first weekend of every month. That was totally illegal for him to say that, but being the guy I was, I didn’t fight it. I’m sure he knew that what he had said was illegal, though. He had been a Marine Corps officer in the Reserves himself! I figured I could miss one or two and try to make them up. In fact, that’s what he told me to do, although that wasn’t what I wanted. The bad thing was, it kept happening month after month after month.

I was told by Bill K…. that I could not go to drill again and again because I was continually being scheduled to work on weekends. Bill, my supervisor told me that he could not change the schedules—even though I had given my Military Reserve schedule to him several months in advance. He just didn’t bother to take me off flight status for those days. It was his mistake.

Here’s the clincher: While flying overseas I made several hundred dollars more in per diem and overtime. Bill K…. told me, and it was known around the Field Office, that if I missed out on one overseas flight, I would lose all that extra money in per diem and overtime pay. Furthermore, I was told that if I were taken off the schedule for just two day to attend my military drill that I would miss about 6 or 7 international trips and all the money that it included. But it wasn’t just the money, flying overseas was the pinnacle of the job. It was, you’ll remember, right after the London Bomb Plot—suicidal terrorists wanted to blow U.S. and British planes up in mid-flight over the Atlantic Ocean. I wanted to stop that! That was my job. That’s why I joined the air marshals.

I consulted with two other air marshals in my Field Office who were also in the military Reserves. They too said that they were treated unfairly by the FAM Service for being in the Reserves. They had been ostracized, missed opportunities for professional development within the Federal government, and had been passed up in promotion (even though, knowing their backgrounds very well, both much more qualified than the people who were being promoted).

On that, I called the military Staff Judge Advocate—or JAG, the military lawyers. They told me that I needed to pursue something on the government side of the house. I called the Office of Special Counsel once and I got the number of an ombudsman, but I didn’t pursue anything. In retrospect, I should have, but I feared for my job!

I was so fed up with the government bureaucracy, the unethical decisions I saw from government supervisors, and much, much more that I just wanted out. Moreover, I feared retaliation if I spoke up. I had seen others get in trouble for trying to do their jobs well. Also, I had already been castigated by the Special Agent in Charge (SAC), Michael DeMarte, for asking a legitimate question about the lack of FAM’s anonymity and media reports when I very first arrived at the Field Office. (By the way, a House Judiciary Committee report later fully supported what I had observed and recommended during that open Q&A forum before a certain Deputy Assistant Director and SAC DeMarte. There’s a lot more to that story…which I’ll save for my book.)

Before, and especially after, the Miami International Airport shooting—when two FAMs shot and killed a man who claimed he had a bomb—I asked if I could teach my class on suicide bomber identification and interdiction. I had even been asked by SWAT legend Larry Glick and the International Tactical Officer’s Training Association ( to teach several police officers a few months before in another state, which I did. My request to help share the information I had learned and was knowledgeable about, fell on deaf ears at the Federal government level. …And you thought the communication and overall cooperation for success against terrorism improved after September 11th. Pshaw.

As mentioned, I saw what had happened to others who filed grievances. Many guys were suspended for frivolous things, and their legal rights were usurped. So, instead of going against the grain, I figured I’d just find another job—pretty sad too, considering I had gone into the FAM Service with full intentions of staying in the Federal law enforcement until retirement. (Note: Dozens of my friends have quit that nascent agency. Every air marshal worth his salt has looked for another job.)

The guys at my Reserve unit were very understanding, but I wasn’t able to make up all the days I needed to make my time count towards retirement. (Note: an air marshal’s schedule is so terribly busy and the last thing you want to do on your limited days off is work instead of recover. Flying all the time—way more than flight attendants and pilots—does some serious damage to your health. Two weeks on the ground would have felt wonderful, but it never happened in my three years of flying.)

Here’s where the crazy part comes in.

Finally, I felt I really needed to go to drill so I could get my retirement points and serve in my military leadership capacity with the troops I supervised. I brought it up to Bill K….. He got upset that I’d even bring it up because it would cause a ‘conflict’ in the schedule, even though (once again) I had emailed him my drill dates several months previously.

He asked me to write up a memo, which I did. In the memo I wrote that he told me that I could not go to drill and that I had not been able to go for the last four months. He looked at (I think) and then took it in to an Assistant Special Agent in Charge, one of the original 33 FAMs there prior to 9/11.

Later, Bill K…. called me up on the phone (I was driving home) and proceeded to literally swear and cuss at me, calling me names and telling me that I made him look bad in front of his supervisor. Obviously, he must have been told that what he had done was totally illegal. I listened, calmly and patient, but inside it was just one more thing that made my work environment so unbearable.

It was the last, but certainly not the only, berating I received. I put up with more government corruption and abuse than I thought was possible. It was a sweet day when I gave my two weeks notice.

Even though I’m searching for a job (which is pretty stressful in and of itself), and even though being in Iraq has been pretty tough and horrible in its own way, I wouldn’t go back to the Federal Air Marshal Service no way, no how. To tell you the truth, being in Iraq is better than working as an air marshal. Several former air marshals are working here now as private security contractors. And, you know, at least here in Iraq, I have a fighting chance. The anonymity of American air marshals—the one necessary thing that will save them, the crew, the passengers and the plane—was obliterated under former FAMS Director Tom Quinn and it will be nearly impossible to get back.

Last month the media reported that al Qaeda was going to shift its tactics and look for targets of better opportunity outside of Mesopotamia (a.k.a. Iraq). To my not-so-undercover brothers on commercial airplanes, I say: Watch Your Backs! And I mean that in more ways than just one.


Anonymous said...

Good Luck! Be Safe!! Saw a job as an Industrial Security Specialist on USAJobs you might be good at. F Bill K. he is a sell out.

Anonymous said...

Hey bro, I left the FAM svc too (NYFO), after serving from Mid 2002 to Mid 2006, and I hear ya all the way. I have an extensive background as do you. Now about to earn my Business Degree. Goodbye government. Unreal. All the best to you and G-d