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Federal Air Marshal Career, Job, Degrees and Training Information

Federal air marshals provide security on airplanes as well as coordinate security operations necessary to protect national transportation infrastructure. These agents provide security under the direction of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Their primary responsibility is to protect airplane passengers from terrorists. Air Marshals are very skilled marksman, some of the better trained federal agents with firearms. The TSA estimates that air marshals spend 5 hours daily, 15 days monthly, 181 days annually, adding up to about 900 hours every year flying in a plane.

Today, Federal Air Marshals are increasingly involved directly in homeland security assignments and consequently work closely with various law enforcement agencies to accomplish homeland security missions. Currently, air marshals hold various positions at homeland security organizations including the National Counterterrorism Center, the National Targeting Center, and on the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Air marshals also work on other homeland security and law enforcement liaison assignments during special national events or during times of heightened alert.

Since many people apply to become federal air marshals, competition for these jobs is intense. A strategy you can employ to set yourself apart from other applicants is to obtain a bachelor's or graduate degree. If you already have a graduate degree, you can get past certain requirements and begin your career with a higher salary. The TSA usually require candidates to meet the following requirements:
  • Be an American citizens
  • Be no older than 37 when filing an application (applicants with previous law enforcement experience can often bypass this requirement)
  • Pass health and physical fitness requirements
  • Have at least 3 years of related experience

Federal Air Marshals, sometimes referred to as Civil Aviation Security Specialists, are required to complete an intense, two-phase training program. The first training phase is a seven-week course in basic law enforcement. This course is provided at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico; Air Marshals also receive additional phase one training at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey. Training is usually tailored to the specific position that the Federal Air Marshal will be performing while on the job. Phase one training includes coursework in constitutional law, physical fitness, marksmanship, behavioral observation, emergency medical assistance, defensive tactics, and other law enforcement techniques.

Phase two training prepares air marshal candidates for the tasks they will be expected to accomplish in the field. Training in phase two focuses on perfecting candidate's marksmanship skills; a necessity of the job due to the cramped confines of an aircraft, as well as the number of bystanders. Air marshals who successfully complete phase two training are assigned to one of 21 field offices, where they will begin their careers.

Applicants with experience related to the FV-G level can be listed on an application. Individuals with law enforcement and investigative experience, or experience with aviation security will improve their chances of working as a federal air marshal. Moreover, applicants with graduate degrees in aviation management, police science, criminal justice, or numerous other specialties can improve their opportunities. More information regarding federal air marshal applications can be found at the TSA's website.

Equipment and practices

Federal Air Marshals (FMAs) are often deployed with as little as an hour's notice and at high risk locations. Undercover FMAs were deployed on all airline flights to and from New Orleans during Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. Flights coming anywhere near Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics had FMAs aboard. Flights near cities visited by the President also may have FMAs aboard.

Federal Air Marshals carry the Sig Sauer P229 service pistol in a .357 SIG chambering. Air marshals are required to be re-certified on their firearm every 4 months. An anonymous Air Marshal once stated that they are trained to "shoot to stop", usually firing at the largest part of the body (the chest or midsection) and then the head to "incapacitate the nervous system".