Originally created 11/24/03

Man follows call beyond his airport security job



Each day before he takes the helm of security at Augusta Regional Airport, Chief James Cole reads the Bible and says a prayer.

It's a job he believes God placed him in 2 1/2 years ago - a job that changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001. Now he's preparing to take on another challenge after his day job - Bible college.

"All my people know I'm a Christian," he says, referring to his security staff at the airport. "I tell them it was God who put me in this position."

Chief Cole has plans to start classes at the Southern Bible Institute on Greene Street. He's a member of First Family Church of Augusta on Warren Road, where he teaches a youth class on Wednesday nights and serves as an usher.

Eventually, Chief Cole would like to obtain a degree in theology, and he might become a pastor while continuing as security chief.

"A lot of pastors these days work two jobs," he said.

These days, though, Chief Cole knows all too well the economy isn't the only thing to be concerned about.

Along with his scripture reading, he says he starts each day at Augusta Regional wondering "What will happen today?"

He was the youngest chief of security at the airport when he took the position at age 33 in June 2001. Just three months later, his leadership was quickly called on.

"Prior to Sept. 11, we didn't have to have someone posted in front of the terminal at all times," he said.

That and other rules enacted since Sept. 11 have made airport security jobs tougher. For example, leaving a bag unattended at an airport is no longer allowed. Chief Cole said inspectors from the Transportation Security Administration sometimes visit the airport to see if bags are left alone.

If any are found, Chief Cole said, the airport and the owner of the bag can be fined up to $10,000 a bag.

"You've always got to be on your toes," he said.

Chief Cole said terrorism remains a concern even in Augusta.

"Augusta's not a quiet town like everybody thinks," he said. "This could be a very potential target because it is a small-town airport."

As he thinks back to Sept. 11, 2001, he remembers another important moment in his life. It was soon after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that Chief Cole was baptized and set out on his own religious quest - one he says he'll follow wherever the path leads.

"I will be here (at Augusta Regional) as long as God allows me to stay," he said.

JAMES COLE

EXPERIENCE: Background in military police; worked for Columbia County Sheriff's Office as a sergeant for the county jail from 1997 to 2000; started working in security at Augusta Regional Airport three years ago, but was hired as chief a half-year later

FAMILY: Wife, Dawn; four children: Nancy, 14; John, 11; Kirsten, 10; and Zoe, 18 months

QUOTE: "I think one of the biggest challenges is people are getting too relaxed," he said, referring to passengers' views on airport security. "Maybe some think we should go back to pre-9-11 days, but we can't."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.