Federal Air MarshalFederal air marshals protect airliners and participate in national transportation infrastructure security projects. These agents work under the supervision of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Their main duty is to prevent terrorists and criminals from hijacking planes. Air Marshals are exceptional marksmen, some of the premier firearms experts in any of the federal law enforcement agencies. The TSA has reported that most air marshals average 5 hours a day, 15 days a month, and 181 days a year in the air, totaling nearly 900 hours annually.
Currently, federal air marshals participate in more and more homeland security operations, so they collaborate with numerous police agencies to accomplish national security objectives. Federal air marshals fill positions with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces and the National Targeting Center and Counterterrorism Centers. Air marshals are also assigned to various homeland security operations during national events or periods of heightened security.
Because many people want to work as federal air marshals, competition is intense for these positions. Candidates with bachelors or master's degrees enhance their chances of being hired. Those with graduate degrees can bypass certain requirements and receive higher pay after being hired. The TSA typically requires considered applicants to meet the following criteria:
- Have proof of American citizenship
- Be 37 or younger at time of application (this requirement does not apply to individuals with prior law enforcement experience)
- Pass fitness and health tests
- Have 3 years of applicable experience at a minimum
TrainingFederal air marshals, also known as civil aviation security specialists, must complete a rigorous, two-phase training program. The first phase consists of seven weeks of basic law enforcement training. Training is completed in Artesia, NM at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Supplementary phase-one training is completed in New Jersey at the William J. Hughes Technical Center. Training is typically customized to the specific duties air marshals will perform while in the field. Additionally, during this phase, trainees complete classroom instruction in marksmanship, physical fitness, constitutional law, emergency medical treatment, self-defense, behavioral observation, and various police techniques.
Air marshals learn about field tactics and duties during phase-two training. During this phase, trainees receive advanced firearm training, so they're able to shoot in crowded planes without hitting innocent bystanders. Trainees who pass phase-two training are certified to work in the field and are assigned to a field office. There are 21 field offices nationwide.
Applicants with FV-G level experience should detail it on the application. Those with investigative, police, or aviation security experience will enhance their chances of being hired. Likewise, applicants with master's degrees in criminal justice, police science, aviation management, or similar specialties also improve their chances of being hired. Additional details about applying to become a federal air marshal are available at the Transportation Security Administration's website.
Equipment and PracticesFederal air marshals are frequently called into work with less than an hour's notice in risky settings. Undercover marshals typically board all flights to cities hosting major events, such as the Olympics, major political conventions, or the Super Bowl, for days prior to the event. Likewise, flights arriving to cities where the President will be often carry federal air marshals.
Federal air marshals are armed with Sig Sauer P229 pistols equipped with .357 SIG chambering. They're required to complete firearm re-certification every 4 months. Air marshals are trained to incapacitate terrorists and criminals by firing at the chest or head.
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