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U.S. Customs Special Agent Badge (ICE) for EMS

And How It Can Save Your Life Too!

A U.S. Customs agent watches.

A truck pulls into his border station.

Suspicious, he orders the driver out

…and searches the vehicle.

He pulls the panels, bumpers, and wheel cases off the truck… but finds no drugs or contraband.

Still suspicious, he waves the driver through.

The following week, the customs agent searches the same driver.  Again, the customs agent finds nothing.

Years pass…

The same driver goes through the custom agent’s checkpoint over and over.

The customs agent tries full-body searches, X-rays, sonar, everything he can think of…

And each week, the same man drives up, and no drugs or contraband are ever found.

Finally, just before the customs agent is to retire –the driver pulls up.

“I know you’re a smuggler,” the customs officer says.  “Don’t bother denying it.  But [darned] if I can figure out what you’ve been smuggling all these years.

I’m leaving now.

I swear I can do you no harm.

Please tell me what you’ve been smuggling?”

“Trucks,” the driver says.

Moral of the story:  Sometimes it’s easy to miss the obvious

That’s the story my grandpap told me when I was wrestling with the decision to join U.S. Customs or the U.S. Coast Guard.

Eventually, I picked the Coast Guard.

But I never forgot the story.

And I didn’t realize what a gift my grandfather had given me, until I started flying.

I kept my grandpap’s words of wisdom close. I thought of my pap every time I pre-flighted a helicopter for the next 22 years. I kept thinking about all those trucks that got through U.S. Customs. It always brought a smile, and then a re-focus on whatever I was doing.

The story absolutely kept me safer. And it can help you stay safe too.

Here are three easy ways to actually see what you’re looking at —even if you’re looking at the same thing (helicopter, drug count, etc) day after day.

3 Ways To Actually See What You Want To See

Here are three techniques I added to my aircraft pre-flight inspections, thanks to my grandfather’s story:

  1. Break the pattern of your normal routine
  2. Stagger the length of the task
  3. Change your direction

All three techniques are quick and easy to do, and all three work.

Break The Pattern

I realize the challenge with some work schedules. But to break a pattern you don’t need to change every detail of your routine.

Keep it simple. Take a different route to the aircraft. Start at “step 2” and finish with “step 1.”

The idea is simply to interrupt your normal routine enough to force a conscious re-focus of your effort. That’s it.

Stagger The Length

Start by timing your normal pre-flight. Once you have a benchmark, start making small adjustments.

Adjust your normal completion time a minute or two in either direction. The conscious effort to adjust the time will force you to break your normal routine.

Then consciously re-focus that “break” into actually seeing the parts of the aircraft you’re viewing.

Change Your Direction

Keep it simple. Simple works.

Do your next preflight in the opposite direction of your last pre-flight.

Again, remember the bigger goal of interrupting your routine just enough to re-focus your effort into actually seeing what you are inspecting.

That’s it!

Break the pattern, stagger the length and change your direction. Use these simple but effective techniques to actually see what you want to see.

I never told my pap what a profound affect his customs agent story had on me. Or how I put his story in my flight crew toolkit and pulled it out every day for the next 22 years.

But I’m at peace with it. Because somehow I think he just knows. Maybe he even knew from the beginning?

Grandpap’s are smart like that.

Remember this story the next time you do a helicopter pre-flight, ambulance drug-count, night vision goggle inspection, or any other task that requires you to really see (not just look at) what you’re doing.

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Troy Shaffer
Troy Shaffer

About the Author: Troy is an Air Medical Career Expert passionate about a team approach to improving air medical safety from the ground up. Troy is a former Army medic, Army pilot, Coast Guard pilot and EMS pilot. Troy has taught hundreds of wannabe flight medics, flight nurses and EMS pilots the exact steps needed to launch air medical careers.

    5 replies to "How A Special Agents Biggest Mistake Saved EMS Flight Crew Lives"

    • Jamie Watts

      Awesome story and so true. We need to learn to see the whole picture,

      • Troy Shaffer


        You’re right! And seeing the big picture can sometimes be challenging when you’re caught in the same routine day after day.

        Thanks for the kind words. I hope this article helps you.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

    • DrBob

      I once worked with a captain that never did his preflight the same, and as a result, he picked up issues that other crew had missed. He is now retired, but now do the same, and get others to do so as well.

    • Richard Hoffman

      Good stuff for my flyin friends!!

      • Troy Shaffer


        Thanks for commenting and sharing with friends. I sincerely appreciate it.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

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