This Is Not a Drill

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PUZZLES & CAMO BY SHELLY HUHTANEN

Lon Anderson with TSA, “Thank you.” People like you are the reason families like us keep trying. You showed us compassion and for that, we are forever grateful.

“Where are you?” Lon Anderson, the TSA representative, was calling us to check on our status. We had just parked and were unloading the car. This was the first time Broden had flown since he was a baby and Hayden was around three years old. After hearing Lon’s voice, Mark and I were glad we took the time to call “TSA Cares” a few days before our flight. Lon told us to meet him at one of the front doors near the Delta counter and he would help us get through TSA.

We grabbed our bags and hustled over to the airport. Mark and I gasped when the doors opened. The main area was filled with people. The lines were so long we didn’t even know where they started or where they ended. Mark ran to a Delta representative, but he was not very helpful and extremely overwhelmed due to so many people trying to get on flights. There were massive storms the day before that shut down travel so people were forced to stay the night in Atlanta in the hopes of getting a flight out that day. The same day we were trying to leave. I kept thinking, of all the days to try and fly it was the day after an apocalyptic storm.

Mark turned around and saw a TSA agent by the door on the phone. “Lon! We’re the Huhtanen Family! Can you help us?” Lon ran over and looked concerned, “Have you checked your bags yet?” Mark and I looked at him and rolled our eyes. “Of course not! We’re still trying to figure out where the lines end!” Lon didn’t miss a beat. He told us to follow him and led to a kiosk to check in our bags. I don’t know how many people we cut off in line, but at that point I didn’t care. Broden was starting to get irritated with all the people and the noise. I knew that if we didn’t get out of this crowd, we could possibly be dealing with a meltdown before even reaching the Delta terminal.

After we got our boarding passes and bags checked, Lon walked us past the endless crowd waiting to get through the TSA line. Mark and I grabbed Hayden and Broden and kept our eyes on Lon as he moved in and out of the crowd. Eventually we came up on a TSA agent who was securing the line. Lon came up to him and said, “I need to get this family through.” The TSA agent looked confused initially, but once he realized Lon was dead set on getting us through, he moved to the side to let us proceed.

Lon took the time to explain to us what was going to happen, who could keep their shoes on, and how to set Broden’s medical formula aside for extra screening. Mark went through screening and then called for Broden to walk towards him. Hayden followed and then I stayed behind to be extensively searched due to having the medical formula. Lon stayed with our family the entire time. When I met up with them after being screened, Mark shook Lon’s hand and I gave him a big hug. There was no way we could have gotten through TSA without him. He had kept his promise and ensured we got through.

We started to walk away and I turned around to say thank you again, but he was already gone. I had lost sight of him due to large crowds of people trying to get through TSA so they could find their gate. We grabbed the back of Broden’s backpack and dragged him down the escalator to the train and then eventually found our gate. As Mark and I were gloating to one another on how we got through unscathed, Broden kept us humble by sticking chewing gum in his hair.

As the plane started to board, I proceeded to rip gum out of his hair as he screamed, “Sorry!! Ahhh!” A few parents chuckled as I threw the gum and some of Broden’s hair in the trash. One parent yelled over to me, “Of course something like that would happen before boarding a flight!” I smiled. If he only knew. This year has been a year of firsts for Broden. Mark and I are proud to add flying in an airplane to that list. Lon Anderson with TSA, “Thank you.” People like you are the reason families like us keep trying. You showed us compassion and for that, we are forever grateful. •

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Shelley Huhtanen is an Army wife with two children, one with autism, whose husband is currently stationed at Fort Benning, GA. She is an autism advocate and currently the parent liaison for the Academy for Exceptional Learners.