“My Transition” #35: Michael Tanner — USCG to Corporate Security at VariQ
My background was law enforcement and waterfront port security inspections. I realized at 46 that I was too old to do police work starting at the bottom again so I decided to get into Security; it seemed like a natural progression.
Washington, D.C. — Despite being a Navy brat, Mike found his way into the Coast Guard where he spent the last 20 years conducting counter-narcotics and other operations. He’s got some funny stories and some photos straight out of Super Troopers. Upon leaving the USCG, he has found corporate security to be a good fit.
DJS: Why did you join the Coast Guard?
I was a Navy brat growing up living on Navy bases my whole life. I originally rebelled against the idea of the military until I spent a decade in the “real” world and I decided I needed a career, not just a job. So at 26 years old I went off to boot camp. I was very interested in law enforcement so the USCG seemed like the best way to get into that.
I originally rebelled against the idea of the military until I spent a decade in the “real” world and I decided I needed a career, not just a job.
DJS: What was your favorite job during service? Any good stories?
My favorite jobs were serving on Coastal Patrol Boats (one Vietnam Era 82 footer and three 84 footers) off the coast of Florida. Twice as a BM2 (running the deck) and then twice as the BM1 and BMC serving as the Executive Petty Officer (XPO). Tough assignment. Usually three days out with one or two days in for two weeks then a week of M&R. I was lucky if I got 6 hours sleep in a patrol. But it was highly rewarding.
Those tours were also the bulk of my Law Enforcement experience. Many stories of Drug busts and migrant smuggling interdictions. My best story was the time my team and I tried to apprehend a known migrant smuggler while creeping along a darkened ship. The suspect, a Bahamian national, had already smuggled many illegal migrants to the US and on one trip he threw all the people off the boat about 3 miles from shore causing several of them to drown so he was wanted for murder.
One night we learned from a DEA agent in Freeport Bahamas that the suspect was about to set sail on a 45 foot Sport Fisher for another smuggling trip. So we shadowed him along the coast of the Great Bahama Island until he finally left their territorial seas into open ocean heading towards West Palm Beach. In the dead of night around 3am, my team and I launched our small boat to intercept him, but he suddenly turned back toward the Bahamas at full speed. We received permission from the Bahamians to intercept so we pursued him back toward the shore in 5 foot seas.
It was a hell of a pursuit, crashing through the waves, completely soaked, blood pumping. We tried slamming into his side to force him back into open ocean but his boat was too big. I finally made the call to storm his boat so my Coxswain (boat driver) slammed up against the side of the boat which allowed my partner and me to jump onto his. I ran across the stern deck to the ladder for the fly bridge, while my partner went along the side toward the bow.
We tried slamming into his side to force him back into open ocean but his boat was too big.
As I reached the bridge and about to grab the suspect, he jumped over the windshield and slid down the front just out of my reach. Just then, as we both drew our weapons on him, I could see in the darkness we were just about to hit the rocks of the shoreline. So I stopped engaging the suspect, reversed the engines and spun the helm just missing the rocks. Unfortunately we were still close enough that the suspect jumped onto the rocks and escaped onto land.
The boat was filled with nearly three dozen Haitian migrants crammed down below deck. Had the boat crashed onto the rocks, as the smuggler tried doing, I have no doubt there would have been many casualties. So we missed the suspect but saved many innocent people. The suspect was later apprehended by another patrol boat and convicted of murder. I was awarded the USCG Commendation Medal for bravery.
The boat was filled with nearly three dozen Haitian migrants crammed down below deck… I was awarded the USCG Commendation Medal for bravery.
DJS: What were the most important skills or lessons that you learned?
The most important skill I learned was intense “attention to detail”. Seeing the smallest things and how they affect the bigger picture is a skill I use today.
“attention to detail”
DJS: Did you know what you were going to do when you left the Coast Guard?
I had no idea at first. My background was law enforcement and waterfront port security inspections. I realized at 46 I was too old to do police work starting at the bottom again so I decided to get into Security, seemed like a natural progression. The hardest part was deciding which discipline of security to focus on; hotel, retail, corporate, industrial, etc.
DJS: Did you face any struggles?
A little. I was involuntarily retired under the now defunct Career Retention Selection Panel (CRSP). It was the CG’s version of high year tenure, throwing out the old timers to make room for the cheaper young guys. I knew about two years out that I may get hit and was told for certain one year out. So at the two year mark I decided to start planning just in case. Finished my BA in Security Management using TA and free CLEPs, also earned five certifications from the Defense Security Service (DSS) which is the regulatory body for Cleared Government Contractors/Industrial Security.
I was involuntarily retired under the now defunct Career Retention Selection Panel (CRSP).
DJS: Tell me about your initial job search process?
My first job searches were on USA Jobs and later on Indeed, Monster, and Heroes for Hire. None of them led to anything.
DJS: What was most challenging about the shift back to civilian life?
I felt my transition was overall very smooth. The hardest part for me was ensuring my family would be maintained in the lifestyle they were accustomed to.
DJS: How did you land your current job at VariQ? Did you use any veteran networking strategy to land your current position? If so, how did you make those connections?
I decided that with my security clearance I would focus on Industrial Security for government contractors (FSO) as the field I wanted to get into. About six months before retirement I started to look for groups on LinkedIn for that field, there are many and I figured these would be my peers and best chance at networking.
About six months before retirement I started to look for groups on LinkedIn for that field…
One group in particular, the FSO Exchange group, was the biggest of the FSO groups and was created so FSOs could exchange information. I was already well versed in the field from my studies and certifications so I joined a few conversations here and there, got to know a few of the key players of the group, and basically got my name out there as a friendly addition to the group.
When I started my Terminal Leave a few months later I used that group to ask about job opportunities. I quickly had several people ask for my resume. One of them was a Project Manager at VariQ who had heard that the company was looking for a new FSO and she was searching the groups hoping to cash in on a referral bonus. Within a week I had three solid job offers; one in Homestead Florida, Pascagoula Mississippi, and VariQ in Washington DC. After moving all over for me in the USCG I let my wife pick which location she wanted me to try for.
After two phone interviews they flew me up to DC to meet the CEO and the rest is history. There were 6 people being considered for the job but I was the only one with certifications from the DSS. This was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
DJS: Tell me about what you do on a daily basis as a Facility Security Officer?
Overall, I ensure the company operates within government regulations under the National Industrial Security Program.
My primary job is the Physical Security of the facility such as barriers, access controls, etc. I also handle Personnel Security, which is processing people through the various security procedures of the different contracts. We have contracts that are Top Secret all the way down to a simple Public Trust and each agency has their own forms, paperwork, and procedures for security processing. So I ensure everyone completes what is needed and I do some Quality Assurance on everything submitted to ensure there are no mistakes.
My primary job is the Physical Security of the facility such as barriers, access controls, etc.
As the CEO told me when he hired me, if there are mistakes on things that prevents someone from going on contract then the company doesn’t get paid which means he doesn’t get paid. So make sure he always gets paid and he is happy. Don’t be the bottle neck that holds things up.
DJS: What was your initial training like?
My main training came from the training and certifications offered by the DSS. They covered every aspect of Industrial Security, including Physical Security, Information Security, and Personnel Security.
The rest I learned on the job as I moved along but I had enough to get me in the right direction.
DJS: What skills from the Coast Guard translated into your job and made you successful in your current role?
I spent one tour as a Waterfront Port Facility Inspector. Basically the job was ensuring the ports were following the new security guidelines that came about after 9/11. We would check their training, drills, and physical barriers; very similar to what I do now.
Also, I had to know how to read a Code of Federal Regulations book on port security which were very similar to Industrial Security Regs.
DJS: Are there other veterans in your workplace? If so, how is that dynamic?
Not really. There is one Project Manager who is former Navy so we dig on each other with inside jokes that no one else gets. But the company itself is not very familiar with military.
The CEO/Founder was the son of missionaries who preached all over the world. Although he didn’t know much about the military, since I was a Navy brat and also traveled all over the world I used that to establish a rapport with him during the interview which worked nicely.
DJS: If you knew one thing before the transition process that would have made your experience easier, what would that be?
Start looking early at how your job skills translate to the civilian world and choose tours of duty that would increase that experience. Also, I would have finished my degree earlier instead of waiting till the last minute. CLEPs were a great, free way to earn college credit that really isn’t pushed as hard as I would have liked; I fell into taking them incidentally.
Start looking early at how your job skills translate to the civilian world… CLEPs were a great, free way to earn college credit…
DJS: What was the hardest piece of transition?
Ensuring my family would be taken care of.
Michael Tanner served 20 years in the US Coast Guard, retiring as a Chief Petty Officer. During this time, he participated in a wide variety of training, operations, and counter-narcotics missions. The majority of his time was spent in Florida but Mike finished his time in Tennessee ensuring sector readiness of various USCG units.
In June of 2015, Mike took a job with VariQ in Washington, D.C., where he currently works as a Corporate Facility Security Officer.
Are you interested in sharing your story of transition? Or are you a military transition specialist who would like to share some tips? Send me an email at MilitaryTransitionStories@gmail.com
The goal of this series is to bridge the military-civilian divide in three ways: 1) Highlight the incredible skills and value that military veterans of all generations and backgrounds bring into the workplace. 2) Help transitioning veterans understand their true value and therefore aim as high as possible in their employment and educational goals. 3) Discuss the common struggles, pitfalls and indicators of success in veteran transition, in order to provide better transition assistance from both military and civilian sides.