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Making skies over U.S. safer

James Bassett of Grass Valley on Thursday holds a picture of his son David Bassett, taken when David was in the Navy.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

As a student at Nevada Union High School during the late 1970s, David Bassett didn’t exactly cut an imposing figure on campus.

Sure, the 1979 NU graduate participated on the swim team and later walked on for the football team at Sierra College, but he hasn’t made a habit of returning to reunions to regale alumni about his varied and important career.

Well, how do you like him now?

Bassett, 42, who grew up on Cornwall Avenue and attended St. Mary’s Elementary School, recently was named a top lieutenant in America’s war on terrorism as a new federal security director for a string of airports in Rochester, N.Y.

Bassett said “it was like an Oklahoma land grab” applying for one of the 139 federal security director positions for 429 airport systems across the country. Overall, he was one of 1.5 million applicants for 45,000 jobs in the new system.

Bassett, a married father of one, describes his job as one with a fast learning curve, where many of the people assigned to protect the nation’s airports have years of military or federal government experience.

“I’m feeling younger these days. There’s a lot of gray hair out there,” he said of his colleagues across the country.

Bassett has been a salesman in the biomedical technology field and has extensive background in anti-terrorism movements as a commander in the U.S. Navy’s special operations unit. He recruited, trained, evaluated and deployed security forces to Europe and the Middle East. He also deployed a unit to Bahrain after Sept. 11, 2001, when America came under attack.

His new job “is like working at an Internet start-up company. There’s a heightened sense of urgency. The (terrorism) threat is out there, and it’s not going to go away,” Bassett said.

In Rochester, Bassett is responsible for handling the main airport and three other regional airports in Binghamton, Ithaca and Horseheads, N.Y.; airports that processed 1.25 million passengers last year.

His crew includes about a dozen federal airport screeners and baggage handlers — less than 5 percent of the 300 needed at his airports by the start of 2003.

Don’t expect the federal presence to wane any time soon, Bassett said.

“We’re despised, envied and respected,” he said. “We’re essentially at war, but the face of war has changed.”

Bassett, a registered Libertarian, said he supports “without hesitation” President George W. Bush’s call for a Homeland Security department that includes a federal presence at the nation’s airports.

“This job was too important to be farmed out to the lowest bidder. I absolutely think the government needs to be involved.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Bassett’s proud papa, Jim, who lives across the street from the house his son grew up in.

“I think they’re doing the right thing,” the elder Bassett, 77, said. “I’m a little worried about him,” his father joked. “I think if he’s a little too successful, people will want to take him out.”

Bassett, a registered Democrat and World War II Navy veteran, is firmly behind his son and his boss.

“I have a lot of respect for the president on a lot of fronts. As much as we hate to admit it, this is what the world is like now.”

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