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"Former DEA Agent Oversees Security at Charlotte, N.C., Airport"
Wednesday, June 2, 2004
Former DEA Agent Oversees Security at Charlotte, N.C., Airport
The Charlotte (NC) Observer
John Gartland says busting cocaine labs as a federal agent in Peru and
Bolivia helped him learn the value of teamwork. Overseeing Drug
Enforcement Administration operations in New York City taught him the
importance of assuring security.
Now, Gartland says he is putting the skills he acquired during 31 years
with the agency to use as he oversees security at Charlotte/Douglas
International Airport, where he is federal security director for the
Transportation Security Administration.
On Tuesday, at an airport news conference, the 57-year-old New Jersey
native urged passengers to help airport screening go faster. With summer
travel ramping up, the chance of long airport delays worries many in the
The agency expects to move about 200 million people through security
between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the most since the Sept. 11 attacks
prompted its creation early in 2002.
Monday was the TSA's busiest day ever in Charlotte as 19,038 passengers
flew out. The longest wait for passenger screening was 28 minutes, but
the average wait was just four minutes, a TSA spokesman said.
Gartland said his goal this summer is to keep the average Charlotte wait
below 10 minutes, and his hope is that the longest wait will not exceed
30 minutes. The keys to success, he said, are an awareness of the need
for security combined with cooperation among officials from the TSA, the
airport and the airlines.
In the DEA, Gartland worked as an agent, then headed regional offices in
Houston and Boston as well as a New York City joint task force. The
lesson was always the same: "You need a team of competent people to be
In the drug raids to South America, for instance, his Washington-based
teams worked with teams from the host nations. In most of his domestic
work, federal, state and local agencies worked together. At
Charlotte/Douglas, he said, "We're lucky (because) we truly have a
partnership with the airport and the carriers."
Gartland has forged alliances with key airport players, including
Aviation Director Jerry Orr, who has said he views the TSA as an
overstaffed bureaucracy trying to administer local affairs from
Washington. "John is not totally in charge," Orr said. "If he was, it
would work a lot better."
Terri Pope, station director for US Airways, which carries more than 90
percent of the passengers using Charlotte/Douglas, said Gartland is
"extremely customer-focused (and) understands the need to partner with
A TSA employee, who asked not to be named, said some workers are
disgruntled because Gartland canceled some previously scheduled
vacations and now requires a doctor's note for sick time on heavy travel
weekends. Gartland said the agency requires its fullest staffing when
other people are taking holiday vacations. "This is a hard job, but
people are committed," he said.
Gartland left the DEA in Houston in 2002 to take over as federal
security director at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport. He said
the Sept. 11 attacks led him to believe that providing security for the
TSA "was a mission that I could participate in that might make a
difference." He said many in the TSA share his motivation.
The move to Charlotte in November 2003 meant a return to the state where
his wife and one of his three children were born. The job pays about
Gartland left the DEA as special agent in charge of the Houston office,
the agency's fourth-biggest and, for the past several years, the leader
in terms of illegal drug seizures, said DEA Houston spokesman Robert
Paiz. In Houston, Gartland developed a reputation as a leader who
reached out to others in the agency as part of his team-building
efforts, Paiz said.
"He always let it be known that he was aware of the work being done by
folks on the street," Paiz said. "When there was an investigation that
would culminate in a successful manner, he would reach out to the
assistant special agent in charge, and also to the group supervisors and
the agents themselves."
A native of Wildwood, N.J., Gartland graduated from La Salle University
in Philadelphia in 1969 with a liberal arts degree and went to work for
the DEA's predecessor agency in New York City.
He had a variety of postings, including Kennedy Airport, Greensboro, the
Caribbean and Texas. In Greensboro, he was a federal drug agent from
1979 to 1985, part of a state and local team responsible for western
North Carolina. At the time, it was common for smugglers to fly small
planes from Columbia to isolated airports in places like Murphy and Ashe
Gartland would work undercover: "I would be a buyer or act like I owned
the airport or a plane," he said. He kept his hair short because "major
drug organizations would prefer you not look like a rapscallion."
He says his family has never complained about his dangerous work, even
when he would alternate three months in South America with three months
at home in Washington. "I'm the luckiest guy on earth because they know
how important the mission is," he said.
Despite the obvious danger, Gartland says he has never worried. "I
always tried to keep things in perspective," he said. "The government is
well organized, and we're on the right side."
TIPS ON AIRPORT SECURITY CHECKS:
--The key is to move quickly through the metal detector, which takes the
average passenger 35 to 40 seconds.
--Setting off the alarm can mean delays.
--In Charlotte, you will get a second chance to empty your pockets.
--If you still can't clear the metal detector, you must go to secondary
screening, which takes about four minutes.
TRAVELING TIPS: Clothing suggestions
--Avoid excess metal such as large belt buckles and underwire bras.
--Wear shoes without steel tips, shanks or buckles.
--Place these items in bins:
--Mobile phones, keys, change, money clips, lighters, metal hair bars.
Prohibited as carry-ons:
--Tools: Hammers, drills, screwdrivers, pliers.
--Self Defense: Brass knuckles, mace, pepper spray, aerosol cans, except
personal care items.
--Misc.: Lighter fluid, strike-anywhere matches, baseball bats.
For complete information: www.tsa.gov
JOB: Transportation Security Administration Federal Security Director
for Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.
PREVIOUS JOB: Agent and supervisor for Drug Enforcement Administration
for 31 years.
BORN: Wildwood, N.J.
FAMILY: Wife, son and two daughters; one daughter at home.
FAVORITE CHARLOTTE RESTAURANT: Copal Grill.
LAST MOVIE: "Kill Bill" (with daughter).
CAR: 2003 Volkswagen Bug.
FAVORITE TEAMS: New York Yankees, Carolina Panthers.
HOBBY: Runs marathons, scuba diving.
EVER SCARED? "It isn't whether you're scared. It's whether you perform
when you're scared."
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