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Program expedites airport screenings for wounded warriors

By: WAYNE HEILMAN wayneh@gazette.com
May 17, 2013 Updated: May 17, 2013 at 4:10 pm
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photo - TSA screener Kevin Harris greets Air Force athlete Jason Caswell as he goes through a special security line for the Wounded Warriors Friday morning,  May 17, 2013,  at the Colorado Springs Airport.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
TSA screener Kevin Harris greets Air Force athlete Jason Caswell as he goes through a special security line for the Wounded Warriors Friday morning, May 17, 2013, at the Colorado Springs Airport. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has started a program nationwide offering expedited screening for severely injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces, including competitors in the Warrior Games who were leaving Colorado Springs on Friday, the day after the event ended.

The agency set up a special lane Friday at the Colorado Springs Airport for the 260 injured, wounded and ill servicemen and women traveling back to their homes in an effort to highlight the recently expanded special screening program for wounded warriors. Competitors who called ahead to a special telephone number at the agency's call center received an escort and expedited screening during which they were not required to remove footwear, light outerwear or hats and did not have to pass through metal detectors. About 900 competitors, their coaches and families used the special screening lane.

Darrell Fisher, returning to Columbia, S.C., after competing in five events during the weeklong competition, said the special screening program reduced the time he spent getting screened to about two minutes from the 15 to 20 minutes he had previously spent going through the screening process. The Air Force veteran, who competed in the handcycle, wheelchair race, basketball, shotput and discus, is paralyzed below his armpits as a result of a 2002 shooting in Atlanta and was flying back to South Carolina.

"The whole experience was excellent. I had no problems and everybody was friendly and helpful," Fisher said Friday. "It usually takes me between 15 and 20 minutes to go through security because they have to swab my wheelchair, I have to lift myself up on one side and I have to explain everything" about his injuries, he said.

To be eligible for the expedited screening and other services, injured and wounded service members and veterans, including individuals associated with a Wounded Warrior program, should contact the agency's Military Severely Injured Joint Operations Center with itinerary information at 1-855-787-2227 or TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov. Agency personnel can meet the traveling wounded warrior curbside, help them with baggage, guide them through the screening process and assist them getting to the gate, said Paul Lowe, who coordinates the program at the Springs airport.

"We reached out to those organizing the games, handed out information about the program to competitors as they arrived and set up this special lane to handle anything they need," said Lowe, who served 15 years in the Marine Corps and Army before joining theTSA. About half the agency's 110 employees in the Springs are veterans.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman

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