Independent Record: After 26 years with U.S. Marshals Service, Billings native now leads the agency in Montana

Rod Ostermiller is ready to hit the ground running.

The 48-year-old Billings native officially took the reins as U.S. marshal for Montana on Wednesday, after being approved by the U.S. Senate and confirmed by President Donald Trump. A formal swearing in ceremony will likely take place in June.

Hired onto the force at age 21, he’s worked his way up the ranks.

“It’s a huge honor,” Ostermiller said in a recent interview.

The post of U.S. marshal is a political appointment, and Ostermiller said it’s relatively rare to see someone like himself — a career deputy — be named to the job. Unlike someone appointed from outside the agency, Ostermiller will have no need for an orientation.

“It probably takes five years to really get to know how we do our job, the ins and outs, and to get to know people back in D.C. who can provide you with resources and things that you need in times of need,” he said.

Ostermiller has been the chief deputy marshal since 2004, and has served in an acting capacity in the top job since October, when outgoing Marshal Darrell Bell retired. In August, he’ll reach his 27-year work anniversary with the agency.

He thanked Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., for nominating him and the president for confirming his appointment. He thanked Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., for supporting his nomination.

“It’s even sweeter knowing that I get to do it in my home state and my hometown,” Ostermiller said. 

Federal marshals provide law enforcement protection for federal courts, transport federal detainees to and from court appearances and spearhead the Violent Offenders Task Force, a multi-agency team in charge of arresting suspects in some of the most volatile cases in Montana.

Ostermiller grew up on Billings’ South Side and attended college at Montana State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He later earned master’s degrees in public administration and business administration.

As a new focus for the U.S. Marshals Service in Montana, Ostermiller wants to build new partnerships and revamp existing ones with other law enforcement agencies around the state, particularly in Indian Country and in outlying rural counties.

One idea is to conduct trainings on operations that the marshals specialize in but that patrol officers might not regularly encounter, including fugitive apprehension, courthouse and jail security, and sex offender registry compliance.

Currently the Marshals Service conducts those trainings internally, but Ostermiller is hoping to get the word out that his deputies are available to conduct specialized trainings for outside agencies if they are interested — especially for rural operations with more limited resources.

Another issue he may need to tackle as marshal is a possible shortage of jail or prison beds for federal detainees. Montana’s federal law enforcement, in conjunction with state and local partners, announced on Monday a renewed effort to crack down on violent and meth-related crimes, and on illegal firearm possession.

Ostermiller said there’s some room already to accommodate the likely increase in demand on the region’s crowded jails and prisons, with the expectation that facilities will prioritize high-risk offenders. But if law enforcement makes significantly more arrests than anticipated, officials may need to devise a new plan.

Ostermiller says his main focus is to use federal resources to help local law enforcement in whatever way possible, letting the local agencies “call the shots.”

He credits a talented team of deputies and mentors he admires, like former U.S. Marshals Bell and Dwight MacKay, for helping him prepare for the new role.

“Sometimes I think I’ve had just too charmed a life when it comes to the Marshals Service, because I’ve always had good personnel and good leaders,” he said. “It’s just been wonderful.”

Outside of work, Ostermiller has served on boards for RiverStone Health, Big Sky Economic Development and Adult Resource Alliance. He has coached softball and volunteered with the Food Bank.