Steamboat Springs "War on Terrorism" seems like a television network catchphrase until you meet the people who are fighting it. Even on the homefront, the stories of civilians recruited to fight terrorism bear striking similarities to the war stories of husbands separated from wives and newborn babies.
James Hess has a 10-month-old son, George, back in his home state of West Virginia. Hess hasn't seen his baby much since his birth because of his work on the Mobile Security Force.
Last March, the federal government formed the Transportation Safety Administration to help prevent a tragedy like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from happening again.
The TSA is currently administered by the Department of Transportation but will be moved to the Department of Homeland Security.
TSA screeners are trained to use explosive detection equipment and the procedures involved in making sure 100 percent of the luggage that goes through the airport is safe.
Before being hired, each screener was tested and underwent extensive background checks to be given top-secret clearance.
"They do criminal and credit checks and investigate your entire personal life," Screening Manager Tim Stutz said.
Once hired and trained, the TSA screeners replaced the National Guard in airports across the country.
At first, Yampa Valley Regional Airport did not see many changes. The summer months are slow and the airport hired 12 local people to fill the positions. Once tourist season started in December, however, members of the Mobile Security Force from all over America were flown in to take their positions along the baggage carousels and checkpoints of the Hayden airport.
Stutz arrived Dec. 9. Before coming to Hayden, he served in New York, Washington, D.C., and, most recently, San Francisco.
He will stay at the airport in Hayden until April 6 and then wait to be stationed in another airport.
Like Stutz, most of the TSA screeners previously served in the military and are used to the uncertain lifestyle of someone who has given over personal freedom to serve the United States.
TSA screeners are given little notification of when it is time to move to a new airport.
Hess worked in Kansas City, Pittsburgh and New York City before coming to Hayden.
"I got 12 hours' notice before I moved to Pittsburgh," he said. "The phone rings and someone is on the other end telling you to pack your bags. You're getting on a plane at 2 o'clock."
It's a hectic lifestyle, Hess said, but he's seen places that he never would have gone without this job.
"I never would have gone to Kansas City, for example," he said.
"And I went to ground zero when I worked in New York."
Hess served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a young man and worked as a security guard in the years since.
After Sept. 11, he was hired to set up security for a power plant.
He arrived in Hayden Dec. 12, the day after his birthday.
"I was hoping to go to Puerto Rico," Hess said. "I had my bags packed with shorts and then the phone rang. My boss asked me if I liked to ski.
"I don't ski," he added.
Though he was disappointed at first, "this is one of the nicest places I've been," he said.
The Mobile Security Force employees all stay in the Holiday Inn in Craig.
"I grew up in a small town and I know how they can be kind of clannish," Hess said. "I was worried before I came here, but the people have bent over backward to be welcoming."
Originally, Hess was scheduled to stay for three weeks, but he enjoyed it so much he volunteered to stay until April.
Screening baggage at a small-town airport might seem unimportant to the outside eye, but it was the initial check-in at the small-town airport in Portland, Maine, that allowed terrorist Mohammed Atta in the air on Sept. 11.
With the formation of the TSA, there is now one set of procedures for every airport in the United States, Stutz said.
And the Hayden airport is fortunate to have the crew of screeners that it does, lead screener Keith Malloy said.
Malloy was hired in September from Austin, Texas. Since then, he has worked in New York, Virginia and Detroit.
"We've all been on the road awhile now," he said. "We've hit a groove and we're a good team. We know what we're doing so things run as smooth as silk."
Though the non-local TSA screeners will leave Hayden in April, the department is a permanent entity, so they will be back next season.
"When Sept. 11 happened, it sent a shock wave through the entire country," screener Jeff Evanisko said. "It's good to see that the country is actually doing something about it and airports are safer than they have ever been."