Making the team: MacDill’s waterborne police force

  • Published
  • By Airman Adam R. Shanks
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

“Growing up, my dad would tell me, ‘If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life,’ and for me, every day of work feels like a vacation,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary Tierney, a marine patrol crew lead with the 6th Security Forces Squadron (SFS).

Tierney is one of the newest members of the marine patrol at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. As an installation patrolman, Tierney chose to try out for marine patrol, MacDill’s waterborne police force, on July 21, 2016.

 “About a month after completing the tryout, I learned I was accepted,” said Tierney. “Next thing I know, I was in the two-week-long boating course.”

The basic boating course provides necessary knowledge of boats, knot tying, maritime operations and nautical terms.

“It was nerve-racking,” laughed Tierney. “I had no knowledge of boats whatsoever. Up to that point, I had only passed a swimming test.”

Tierney pushed through the “boatload” of information, and he caught on quickly. After completing a written test for the course, Tierney was in the 30-day probation period.

“The 30-day probation period allows us to assess new members and make sure they’re catching on to all the new information they’ve learned,” said Tech. Sgt. Isaac Dobson, NCO in charge of 6th SFS marine patrol. “The element lead will also watch how the new members mesh with the team and how they’ll contribute. If they prove they’re ready, they’ll receive their uniform and join the team.”

In his previous position, Tierney patrolled in a car with the sturdy ground under his feet and complete protection from the elements. Now, weather and fluid dynamics have to be on the forefront of his mind, as well as preparation for the unexpected.

“You never know what’s going to happen on the water,” explained Tierney. “Unlike land where you can easily get back into your car or into a building, it can be scary during a storm on the water; weather is unpredictable.”

However, weather is just one concern for marine patrolmen.

“Aside from being on the water, the biggest difference between marine patrol and regular security forces is the way we stop people,” said Tierney. “On land, a routine traffic stop can be approached with some ease, because the person has access to the base.

“However, on the water, it could be a random person who didn’t like how we approached aggressively, and they may decide to pull out a weapon. Everyone we stop is treated like a threat until determined otherwise.”

Tierney described the job as high risk, high reward.

“We get to watch the sunset, sunrise and wildlife while on the water. I’ll admit it’s amazing,” said Tierney. “But the uncertainty of those we encounter adds a lot of risk. Our job is to keep MacDill’s waters safe, and it’s what we do.”

Although it’s a job of “what ifs,” Tierney recommends it to his peers.

“MacDill is one of only three Air Force bases that offers anything like marine patrol, but ours is constant 24-hour operations,” said Tierney. “Before I decided to try out, I was looking into retraining. I was ready to try something new, so I asked myself, ‘Why not join and experience something great like marine patrol?”

Now that he made the cut, Tierney is all smiles as he’s part of a close-knit team of defenders.

“I love it, it’s the best decision of my career so far,” said Tierney with a grin.