PHL Safe & Sound: Transportation Security Specialist Canine Handlers Joseph Zappala, Gary Stoerrle, Michael Rossi and Jose Del Rosario

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Transportation Security Specialist Canine (TSS-C) Handlers Joseph Zappala, Gary Stoerrle, Michael Rossi, and Jose Del Rosario recently received the “Safe & Sound” award in Philadelphia International Airport’s (PHL) Employee Recognition Program. This award recognizes employees who protect the integrity and safety of passengers through proactive communication, exemplary teamwork, courage, and effective action.    

From left to right - Joseph Zappala, Gary Stoerrle and his canine Bak and Michael Rossi.

Stoerrle, Zappala, Rossi, and Del Rosario each have over a decade of experience working in various positions within the TSA. As canine handlers, they are part of the National Explosive Detection Canine Team Program (NEDCTP) at PHL and have all undergone weeks of training at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio with their Explosive Detection Canines (EDC). At the airport, they uphold the public safety of passengers with their canines by detecting explosives and prohibited substances.

In her nomination of the TSS-C handlers, Prime Flight Aviation Services Line Queue Attendant Tonia Davis stated, “I’m nominating them because they protect everyone in the airport from harm and danger. I applaud them and their canines for their effectiveness.”   

Courage, integrity, respect, proficiency, and teamwork describe the group’s work ethic. Over the years, they have each won several awards. In 2015, Zappala and his canine graduated with honors from the Lackland Air Force Base, as did Stoerrle and his canine partner Bak in 2016, and Del Rosario and his canine MOMO in 2017.  “I get to work with my best friend every day,” said Stoerrle.   

In his nomination of the TSS-C handlers, Supervisory TSS-C Nathan Benson stated, “All four men and their canines are a dedicated team, ensuring the safety and security of passengers on a daily basis. They are the reason the canine program at PHL is considered one of the best in the country.”      

Jose Del Rosario receives his award from DOA and TSA staff.  

Safety and security are essential to the TSS-Cs. They take pride in knowing that passengers can easily travel to their destinations due to their due diligence. Within the TSA, Zappala is one of the program's go-to canine handlers and is always ready to answer any call with his partner Zorro. Volunteering is important to Zappala, who travels all over the country to support other agencies.   

Rossi takes pride in the canine program, and it’s reflected in his work with his canine, Holly.    

In 2021, Stoerrle and Del Rosario were among 24 TSA officers from PHL who provided security for the 59th Presidential Inauguration.  Earlier this year, Stoerrle and Bak were featured in a video by Business Insider, What TSA Airport Dogs Go Through in Explosives Training Boot Camp.   

“I believe in leading by example,” said Del Rosario. “No one is greater than the team.” 

The PHL Employee Recognition Program was established by the airport’s Guest Experience (GX) Department. Honorees are nominated by their peers and selected by the GX Council Steering Committee’s Employee Conduct and Recognition Committee. To nominate an employee click here. For more information about the program, click here.    


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