A Talk on the Wild Side.
Thomas Toth III takes a well-deserved break in Helmand Province, the setting for some of the fiercest fighting during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Thomas Toth III has been a wildlife inspector in the busy Port of New York since January 2017, intercepting smuggled wildlife and at the same time, helping to facilitate the multibillion-dollar legal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. As we celebrate Veterans Day, Thomas agreed to share some thoughts about being a U.S. military veteran in our Office of Law Enforcement (OLE)
What was your experience of the outdoors in your early life?
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, which had a lot of nature preserves that I explored with my younger brother and sister. I was also lucky enough to have a cottage in Michigan that was in the middle of the Huron-Manistee National Forest, about 20 miles east of Ludington, Michigan, and in a very quaint little fishing town nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan. It was while visiting there that I got to see true, pristine wildlife. My grandfather would teach me how to track wildlife, fish, and above all have respect for Mother Nature.
PHOTO GALLERY: Fish and Wildlife Service Thanks Our Veterans
What motivated you to join the military?
My father was in the Army and many of my uncles served in many wars - some never made it home. My great grandparents fled Germany and Hungary in hopes of a better life in America. So I’ve always had a voice in the back of my head to serve our country, for the greater good.
What branch of the military did you serve in? What was your Military Occupational Specialty?
I served in the Army as a 91D - Tactical Power Generation Specialist. However, I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). The only air assault division of the United States Army and the most deployed since its activation in 1942. So I faced major combat in Afghanistan during which I got to ride around in, and repel out of, some amazing aircraft (helicopters). Nicknamed the “Screaming Eagles,” the 101st has consistently distinguished itself by demonstrating the highest standards of military professionalism and is portrayed in almost every war movie, easily distinguishable by the “screaming eagle” patch on each soldier’s arm.
What skills, that you learned in the military, have you used in your work for the Service?
Never give up. Think on your feet. Be kind and help those in need.
What has been your most satisfying experience in the OLE so far?
The challenge of finding wildlife being trafficked and that you never know what you are going to find during your inspections.
Are there any similarities between serving as a military member and being a wildlife inspector?
Yes. The daily grind and making a difference - how little or insignificant it may seem. And the wildlife inspectors are also a small group, and we lean on each other for help.
What are the most significant differences between serving in the military and being a wildlife inspector?
In the army, you’re on call 24/7. There are surprise weapon, equipment, or barracks checks at any hour of the day or night, so you are always “on guard.” We constantly trained in combat techniques, woke at four in the morning to do physical training at least five days a week, and then worked a full day often ending at 10:00 p.m. I appreciate the similarities in the work and work ethic, but also enjoy having some personal “down time.”
What, if anything, surprised you about the Service?
How dedicated to duty we all are, and how overworked everyone is, but we manage to keep the mission.
What do you hope to see in your future in the OLE?
My hope is to one day have enough resources so that we can go after more traffickers and those that have no respect for wildlife. Routine day-to-day work at the ports is vital to keep our trade economy strong and moving, but I hope we can increase our numbers so we can find even more illegal wildlife and wildlife products that have an adverse effect on both our natural resources and the legal trade.
What advice would you give to other veterans seeking to transition to federal employment?
It took me quite a while, and many, many applications, to gain such a great position as being a wildlife inspector. So I would say volunteer, talk to those in federal service, and never give up.
Is there anything you would like to share that hasn't been asked yet?
Thanks for your time.
Written by: Wildlife Inspector Colleen Scully