Fielding works security under Secret Service
By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor
It’s a once in a lifetime chance to see a Presidential inauguration. And New England resident John Fielding got that chance.
Fielding is a TSA officer with the Dickinson airport, and awhile back he applied to be a part of the Transportation Security Support Team (TSST).
“It’s a team that you can apply to be a part of,” Fielding said. “And then they’re called upon as needed.”
Lorie Dankers, Spokeswoman and Public Affairs Manager for the Transportation Security, said that TSST has helped with other events around the country, like when the Pope has visited.
“They bring in the TSA officers who have an expertise in screening passengers, large volumes of passengers, understanding the types of things that are and are not allowed, and that’s why they turned to the TSA,” she said.
Fielding got a call about two weeks before inauguration inquiring about his interest in helping with the event, he agreed, and was one of only four people from North Dakota called to assist. The other three were from airports in Minot and Fargo. Fifty airports in total were represented, Dankers said.
Fielding flew into Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia. The training, and subsequent operations, were all ran by the Secret Service, and on the second day in Washington, D.C., Fielding and the rest of the TSST sat down for six hours of briefings. Original trained by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and other agency to screen at airports, this training was adjusted by what the Secret Service wanted, including objects to look for and how to look for prohibited objects.
The main differences, Fielding said, was procedural along with a change in items very specific to the event. Pointy umbrellas were not allowed, but audience members could bring plastic water bottles, though glass or metal ones were not allowed. Also, anything that could be used as a projectile were not permitted. For example, visitors could bring a cut up banana but not a whole banana. Selfie sticks were also on the list of prohibited items.
Fielding and his team were housed in a conference center about 35 miles outside of Washington, and they up at midnight the morning of inauguration and made it to the location by dawn and immediately went to their check points.
Fielding’s checkpoint was West Capital No. 1, and was credentialed for West Front, which happened to be the closest checkpoint from the swearing in.
“We were I believe the actual closest checkpoint to the swearing in, because we could hear it,” he said.
He said they were located at 1st Street Northwest and Constitution Avenue Northwest, which is the corner of the capitol.
“We had a very good spot,” Fielding said.
By law the inauguration has to take place at noon, so the checkpoints were closed about five minutes before the event started. Most of the work was done under tents with heaters and lights. When the event was over, he helped close down the checkpoints and then they were transported back to their lodging. The trip took longer than normal, most of the roads were blocked and they had to essentially go around Washington to get back to their hotel.
Fielding was impressed at how seamless the training and process was, and how the Secret Service was able to organize such a large-scaled event.
“Just the planning and the organization, and the scale of it, just to see it all come off so well.”
It was quite a site to see the capitol as he came in before the city woke up for the event, Fielding said. He said as he looked on as a spectator he was able to see all of the historical and iconic sites lit up, and free of traffic as they were coming into the city. He was also amazed at all of the equipment and military presence.
“You don’t imagine the capitol looking like that, the military…and the presence that was there,” he said.
In the future, Dankers said it’s possible Fielding could be called upon again, based on this experience and the training he now has had.
“I know they were very pleased with John and his work,” she said.
Dankers added that Fielding’s selection would also depend on what is happening at his local airport, because his TSA duties take preference.
But he said he would relish in another chance to do it again.
“It was a great experience, and I would hopefully get another chance to do that, the Secret Service was great to work with,” he said. “It’s great to be a part of history.”