El Paso

El Paso woman among first to be hired by TSA in the wake of 9/11 attacks

One of TSAs first employees talks...

EL PASO, Texas - An El Paso woman was one of the first 300 people hired by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) when President George W. Bush signed the Aviation Transportation Security Act in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11 when airplanes were flown into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in an attack planned by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 during a U.S. military operation in Pakistan ordered by President Barack Obama.

The Aviation Transportation Security Act not only created the TSA, it also required federal officials to screen 100 percent of bags checked into airports and verify the identities of airline passengers.  Prior to passage of the act, those responsibilities were handled by the airlines and private contractors.

El Pasoan Estella Sanchez Clary joined the federal agency in march 2002 and immediately went to training in Oklahoma for a month. She came back to El Paso for a week, but was then sent to Baltimore, which was the first airport to be federalized in April 2002.

"It was kind of hectic because it was all new, everybody was new, technology wasn't as up to date as it is now, and we didn't enough female officer, so there were days I would be the only female officer on checkpoints," Estella recalled.

Estella eventually returned to El Paso and moved her way up to the position of transportation security manager. She has seen security technology change dramatically over the years. "Now we have the body scanners. We have better X-rays, better machine to test for explosives," she said.

Tuesday, Estella walked ABC-7 through the El Paso International Airport, which became federalized in August 2002. Now, there are 130 TSA employees working at El Paso International, screening about 4,700 passengers a day.

"My team right behind me, they are awesome. They come in everyday to their job to make sure everybody makes it to their destination, and like I said, El Pasoans, for the majority, they are really behind us 100 percent," said Estella.

As Americans looked back on 9/11 with somber tributes Tuesday, Estella also reflected on the watershed moment in U.S. history. "I cried and I was devastated because you're looking at the rubble, you're looking at all this, and you think of all the husbands, sons, wives and daughters - thousands of people lost their lives," Estella said, "It was just surreal." 

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