Justanna Bohling was a forester for the Department of Environmental Conservation in Herkimer County in 2013 when a shooter barricaded himself in a building across the street.
She and other coworkers were ordered to go in the basement for their safety. Bohling did not want to go.
“I really wanted to help,” she said. “As I worked in forestry, I realized I wasn’t really fulfilled and that I wanted to help people and the natural resources. I’m a people person.”
So the Homer native decided took an exam in 2014, went through a police academy in 2016 and became an environmental conservation officer.
She recently became the first woman in DEC history to make a special weapons and tactics team — joining 21 other members statewide.
“It’s extremely humbling,” she said Monday from Long Island, where she is stationed. “It feels amazing. It just shows that women can do anything they put their mind to as long as they try.”
“It’s been amazing to watch Justanna grow in her career as quickly as she has,” said Johnna Gray, her sister. “I’ve never met anyone more driven than her and she’s an inspiration to me and everyone she crosses paths with.”
Homer native Justanna Bohling goes through a briefing during her training as the DEC’s first woman special weapons and tactics officer.
Getting on the SWAT team didn’t come easily, though.
This was the first year the team had tryouts to get into the training school since it was established after the DEC decided in it need a specialized team to help other law enforcement officials. That decision came after DEC officers were used to help find escaped convicts David Sweat and Richard Matt in June 2015.
“After that, they saw a need for a team that trains together and has a common vision and goal to accomplish these high-risk missions,” she said.
To get into the SWAT school, Bohling had to complete physical agility tests, pass a shooting test, spend two days learning close-quarters tactics and go through an interview.
“I tried out with six individuals and out of all six, they only chose two,” she said.
She learned how to respond to an active shooter, learned how to cope with barricaded subjects and woodland tactics, which includes tracking.
Bohling said she felt confident after getting a month to train and with her background as defensive tactics instuctor and as the drill instructor for the academy.
“Just being in overall good shape and doing the training helped me,” she said.
When she was picked to join, she was elated.
“I feel honored to be part of the team,” she said. “It’s a great feeling to have accomplished my dream and my goal. I still have a lot to learn but I’m very happy.”
Now that she’s on the team Bohling said she’s already gone on a few missions, including helping U.S. marshals execute an arrest warrant in Steuben County and providing a boat detail when Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched an artificial reef down near Long Island.
“Women are a growing part of law enforcement agencies across the country, and DEC is proud to be have many qualified women in leadership roles and now, on our tactical force,” Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “Officer Bohling has proven herself as an ECO and I congratulate her on this monumental accomplishment.”