The secretive world of air marshals

When you think of aviation security, you’re likely to conjure up images of security screeners at TSA checkpoints.

But the Federal Air Marshal Service is a clandestine layer which operates in plain sight every day.

With a requirement to be accurate at least 85 percent of the time, no other federal agent has sharper shooting skills than air marshals.

“Our main work environment is the aircraft,” air marshal Kimberley Thompson explained. “At 35,000 feet, you don’t have room for error.”

For decades, the covert organization has avoided cameras. But it agreed to give us a rare inside look at its training facility in Atlantic City, New Jersey along with two former Dallas police officers who are rising through the ranks.

Tony Metcalf carried Badge 6666 with DPD. He worked downtown and as a DWI officer before 9/11 and FAMS began recruiting.

“I faxed a two-page resume and got a call the next morning,” Metcalf said. “I actually thought it was a co-worker of mine playing a joke.”

Metcalf said air marshals develop cover stories to explain why they’re flying in case other passengers strike up a conversation.

Blending in is paramount, Metcalf said, and that’s much easier for his female colleagues like Thompson.

“I think the only unique challenge for women is the fact that the weapon is a pretty large weapon, and sometimes it is hard to determine what you need to wear to conceal it,” she said.

Thompson spent four years as a Dallas police officer working at Northwest Patrol.

“When 9/11 happened, it was something that spoke to me and said I need to do something more,” she said.

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