In the wake of several high profile airline hijackings in the early 1960’s, President John F. Kennedy ordered that there be federal law enforcement officers deployed on certain high-risk flights. The Federal Air Marshal Service began on March 2, 1962 under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The newly formed FAA’s Peace Officers Program deployed the initial group of 18 volunteer law enforcement officers from the FAA’s Flight Standards Division. They received training from the U.S. Border Patrol at Port Isabel, TX. As the international aviation security climate changed over the course of several decades, the core concept of what would be the modern Federal Air Marshal evolved considerably.
From the FAA Peace Officers Program in 1962, it later became the Sky Marshal Program under the joint efforts of the US Customs Service (now US Customs and Border Protection) and the FAA in the early 1970’s. FAA enacted the mandatory passenger screening at US airports in 1973 so the Customs Security Officer force was disbanded and the US Customs Service absorbed its personnel. The armed Sky Marshals became a rarity on US aircraft in 1974. A small force of 10 -12 Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) were retained at the FAA beginning in 1974. They rarely flew missions. The Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) would also see increases and decreases in staffing as the civil aviation climate changed over the course of five decades. On 9/11/2001, there were just 33 Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) in service. Because of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush ordered the rapid expansion of the FAMS. Immediately after the attacks on 9/11, then-Director McLaughlin was tasked to hire and train 600 FAMs in one month. A classified number of applicants were later hired, trained, and deployed on flights worldwide.
In response to the events of 9/11, numerous federal government agencies and organizations, among them the Federal Air Marshal Service rapidly reorganized under the newly formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under DHS, the modern Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service (LE/FAMS) ultimately found its place within the TSA. As this reorganization was taking place, the ranks of Federal Air Marshals would swell exponentially.
As an immediate response to the need for FAMs, hundreds of federal officers from numerous law enforcement organizations accepted permanent appointments as FAMs. In addition, numerous agencies assigned a portion of their federal law enforcement officers to augment aviation security in the immediate wake of 9/11. These “Augmentees”, as they were known, hailed from across the federal government. While the early FAMs and Augmentees were performing their aviation security duties, the FAMS in partnership with FLETC was developing and implementing a comprehensive training program for its newly hired FAMs.
Budgeting issues within the TSA created tension between funding for airport screeners versus the FAMs, and on November 2, 2003, the FAMS fell under the umbrella of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Finally, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff approved the transfer of the Federal Air Marshal Service from U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to TSA on October 16, 2005. As part of this realignment, the Director of the Federal Air Marshal Service also became the Assistant Administrator for the TSA Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), which houses nearly all TSA law enforcement services. Since then, policing the skies would see advancements both in tactics and in training. As of August 2013, the number of FAMs was approximately 4,000.
Ultimately, FAMS chose the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in Artesia, NM to host the Federal Air Marshal Training Program. This intensive program became the framework around which the skills of a fully functional FAM are developed. Through thousands of Federal Air Marshals trained, numerous programs derived from FAM Training Program, such as the Federal Flight Deck Officer, Law Enforcement Flying Armed, and Aircraft Countermeasures Programs, a powerful training partnership was developed that continues to this day.
The FLETC’s partnership with FAMS has resulted in numerous advancements to training at the local and national level. From building specialized training venues (such as live fire shoot houses, ranges, and aircrafts used for training), to providing joint input into the direction of aviation law enforcement curricula and training, the FLETC and FAMS partnership has continued to ensure that our FAMS students are the best trained aviation security professionals in the world.
The current state of the FLETC/FAMS partnership sees numerous programs hosted across the breadth of the FLETC’s nation-wide network of Training Delivery Points. The FAMS training staff, assigned to FLETC for five-year tours, integrates seamlessly in joint training programs, delivering both instruction and guidance to many Partner Organizations. In FLETC-Artesia alone, three standout programs are conducted utilizing a staff of instructors from both agencies in seamless partnership.
The FLETC-Artesia hosts the Federal Flight Deck Officer Initial Training Program (FFDO), Federal Air Marshal Training Program (FAMTP), and the FAMS Advanced Driver Training Program (ADTP). These programs utilize a cadre of instructors from both DHS Components (FLETC and TSA/FAMS), who are cross-certified and able to instruct all aspects of their respective classes. This seamless integration provides a diverse and inclusive set of instructors not only able to deliver instruction, but also able to drive the progress of training forward. Acting FAMS Section Chief Art Montgomery says, “In my humble opinion, it represents the pinnacle of interagency partnership in a training environment.”
A FAM's job is to blend in with other passengers on board aircraft and rely heavily on their training, including investigative techniques, criminal terrorist behavior recognition, firearms proficiency, aircraft-specific tactics, and close quarters self-defense measures to protect the flying public, both domestically and internationally. Currently, these FAMs serve as the primary law enforcement entity within the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). When you consider what these federal law enforcement officers do daily in service to our nation, you can imagine the staggering impact the FLETC’s partnership has with FAMS.
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