When you’re in those airport security lines over this holiday season, remember: Everyone’s got a job to do

Updated Nov 19, 2013

Shuffling through the airport security line a few weeks back I had the strange sensation I’d been here before—years ago. Get in line, get eyeballed by grim faced government people, then the hollering, “put this here, put that there, stand like this, stand like that, next!” Noise, consternation, grumbling under the breath.

Then I remembered: this is just like Army basic training!

This might also explain why I’ve never been particularly upset about the whole post-9/11 airport security drill. Believe me, I experienced a lot worse at Fort Knox, Kentucky one summer long ago.

I think this is worth mentioning because we’re coming up on a busy holiday travel season which will be followed by the World of Concrete and ConExpo, which means lots of travel, lots of delays and probably a few temper tantrums.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the people that boil up in apoplectic rage at these routine airport indignities might have benefitted from a little military discipline earlier in their lives. The one lesson you learn very quickly your first few days in the Army is that you are a worm. That your individuality, your identity, your observations, wants, needs, intellect and trenchant observations actually make you worse than a worm.

All those qualities your mother and your teachers thought so precious, should you care to share them with your drill sergeants, were only going to bring an artillery barrage of punishment on your head.

So you zip the lip, stand in line, the front leaning rest or whatever odd and uncomfortable posture they put you in, lose the attitude and learn to deal with it. It gets dumber for a good long while. But amazingly everything after that seems like a breeze.

Some people might say that airport security shouldn’t be as rude as basic training. I beg to differ. Airplanes became bona fide war zones in the early 1970s when hijacking became the preferred vehicle for political expressions of anti-American psychosis. These may be the first war zones with Cinnabon franchises, but every so often, some ideological mutants turn an airplane into a battle ground. Last significant conflict: September 11, 2001. Casualties: in excess of 3,000.

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That brings us to the Transportation Security Administration airport security personnel, and don’t people just love to gripe about them. But here’s the thing about the TSA. It was thrown together in haste after 9/11 and charged with the almost impossible task of making American airports and commercial airplanes terrorist proof. And you know what? So far it’s working.

Its hardly perfect, and your average TSA employee is no Navy Seal.  But given the huge numbers of people who had to be thrown into the work and the scope and scale of screening in 54 million flyers a year (last year’s total), they’re doing a pretty good job.

When Ronald Reagan was first elected in 1980, I asked my father—who fought in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, earning a Silver Star and enough oak leaf clusters to populate a forest—if he didn’t think Reagan’s military service in WWII was pretty weak tea. After all, Reagan got to stay in Hollywood the whole time, making war movies and propaganda films.

My dad’s answer said a lot about how the greatest generation thought.

“Everybody had a job to do and the military did its best to put the right people in the right job,” he said. “Reagan was good at making movies and that’s how he contributed. I was good at flying airplanes and that’s what I did. Some people were cooks, some people were mechanics,” he said. “What was important back then, was for everybody to do whatever they were told to do and do it as well as they could. “

That’s the mindset I hope everybody takes with them to the airport this holiday season and beyond. The TSA has their job to do. You have yours. Your job is to lighten up, make their job and the process for those around you as swift and easy as possible.

And if it helps, remember—you are a worm. At least until you get through the line, get your shoes on and scurry off to get that Cinnabon you’ve been smelling for the last 20 minutes.