By: Salina Sanders
A Mississippi native who grew up in College Hill, Mario O’Neal has been working security at the Tupelo Regional Airport in Mississippi for more than 17 years. He has been married to his wife for 24 years. Mario has 3 children, and his youngest daughter is currently a junior at Mississippi State University. When he’s not working, his family is one of the most important things in his life, and he makes it clear that he loves them very much.
When Mario first applied to his job with the TSA over 17 years ago, he initially thought it was going to be just another job. But once he realized what the responsibilities of the job were and what it entailed, he knew that this was a chance for him to make a difference in his community and in the world by ensuring that the airline passengers are able to arrive safely at their destinations.
For Mario, a typical day requires an early start. His workday starts around 5:30 a.m. and ends between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. While there can be a lot of paperwork, most of the time he is out at the security checkpoint or at the baggage check making sure that things are going well. Working at the security checkpoint, things can get pretty hectic, so Mario has to be in control and make certain that everything is running smoothly and according to plan.
What I do matters because… Every single day, my job gives me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the American people. It’s my responsibility to make sure that they get to their destinations safely and without disruption. There’s a saying we have in the TSA, “Not on my watch.” It means that as long as I am here, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that nothing slips past. Really, it’s “Not on our watch,” because we work together as a team. None of us has the option of missing something, because that could put all of our passengers at risk.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? That’s easy! Making sure people get to their destinations without anything going wrong security-wise. Because at the end of the day, when I know that that plane got to its destination safely and that the passengers are reunited with their families, that’s what makes me feel fulfilled. It’s the most rewarding part of my job by a landslide.
What are you most proud of? I think I’m most proud of seeing the coworkers that I trained become better screeners and eventually move into leadership positions. Seeing the long-term benefits of teaching a new hire and showing them how to do things the right way is awesome. Just knowing that I had a small part in training them makes me feel great and it makes me very proud to see them succeed.