BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Protecting America’s front door requires careful coordination and constant vigilance. Once you go beyond the border, and into the water, the responsibility falls on a little-known federal agency, The Office of Air and Marine (OAM).
The federal agents have a mission to patrol and protect, and they take our safety seriously. News 4 requested and received federal permission to go out with three CBP Marine Interdiction Agents to see how they secure the Western New York waters.
We launched from an undisclosed site and entered the Niagara River. “Alright, you guys ready,” agent Matthew Warchocki asked. Within seconds, we were soaring through the water. “Yeah, we’re doing about 42 knots right now,” Warchocki confirmed. We pushed past the south Grand Island bridges into position so the federal agents could begin watching the water.
“There’s a designated line in the middle of the lake that delineates the borders. And we enforce customs laws,” Agent Jon Rose explained. “Our main enforcement goal primarily is to prevent acts of terrorism against the United States,” Rose noted.
This day, Rose acted as a navigator, watching for pieces of debris that could pose a danger for the crew or the boaters. They typically deploy in three-person teams. “We’re trained to operate this [vessel]. We’re trained to take each other’s job as tactical crew members,” Rose said.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the Office and Air and Marine (OAM) in 2006. Now, 1,200 federal agents are stationed at 91 locations around the US. OAM stationed agents in Buffalo in 2009.
OAM Agents admit they don’t have the same name recognition as their more visible sister agencies. Customs officers protect the bridges. Border patrol agents watch the land in between the bridges. Agents from the Office of Air and Marine have control of the water. OAM’s main mission is to prevent acts of terrorism, but agents also watch for drugs and people crossing the water illegally.
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Agents ofter turn to the air for back-up with special operations. During our trip agents received support from a CBP helicopter that’s based right here in WNY. “Our response capabilities are 24/7, night or day,” Rose said.
Radar helps them zero-in on potential targets. “The chart is telling what’s safe water [and] where the buoy locations should be,” agent Matthew Warchocki said.
Agents have permission to pull over boats as needed. “We call it a boarding. We’re not out to harass people. We’re not out to ruin someone’s day. We’re just out to do our job, and establish who are. Are you who you saw you are? And we want you to have a good time,” Rose explained.
The mission may sound simple, but agents know lives could be line. Our country’s security depends on their vigiliance and their eyes on the water.