Riverhead police officer Tim McAllister joined the U.S. Navy straight out of college in 1991, armed with a Coast Guard license and a desire to serve. But the Southampton Town resident never expected to serve decades later in an inland country — or being asked to speak at a police academy graduation in a nation torn by war.
“I’ve had a lot of different opportunities and that’s probably the one thing that inspires me to stay in,” he said in a recent interview. “When you start to get comfortable, they put a little more on your plate.”
He’s been on more tours of duty than he can remember off-hand, ranging from aid efforts in Haiti to dealing with Somali pirates off the coast of Africa.
On Saturday night, after half a year of training Afghan police forces on a military base in Kandahar, Mr. McAllister returned home to a hero’s welcome at MacArthur Airport, greeted by his 8-year-old daughter, Hollie, and his partner, Deanna Ziegler.
The 22-year Navy veteran and longtime cop spoke with the News-Review this week about the challenges of a new mission, the bravery of the police officers he trained overseas and how support from those at home helped him through his most recent tour of duty.
Q: What was your mission while you were in Afghanistan?
A: I was involved with the reconstruction teams, so we were helping to rebuild the Afgahni police and army units. I went over as a supervisor. Three different teams, but I shifted jobs about halfway through my tour and I took over a [Security Force Advise Assist Team] that was attached to the Afghan border police. I directly interacted with a one-star and a two-star Afghan general.
Every time I had to brief my Army counterparts I said, “You sent a Navy guy to a land-locked country and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” But this whole war doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Q: For 13 years, the U.S. has had a military presence in Afghanistan, and many soldiers — American and allied forces — have lost their lives. What inspires you to continue the mission?
A: One of the most powerful facts I learned while I was over there was … when we started going over and trying to figure out the problem, one of the things we identified was the lack of education. Schools were one of the first things [set up] after hostilities ended.
We worked with a couple of schools while I was over there. Those [first] children, 5 to 13, are now 13 years later — ages 18 to, say, 30. It’s almost expected that their children will get an education and go to school. Before, that opportunity wasn’t there.