TAMPA — Leonardo Stoll says the transition was easy.
When he retired after 21 years in the military, he went from giving orders to Marines to giving orders to deputies-in-training at the Hillsborough Sheriff's department.
He liked the crisp uniform, the rankings, the respect.
"Your shoes are always shined. Your uniform is squared away," he said. "Those things came second-nature to me."
Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee has always liked hiring military veterans, but last week, his agency's recruiting section went on the offensive.
For the first time, they promoted the agency at bases across the southeastern United States. They visited Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, as well as Fort Gordon, Fort Stewart, the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany and Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
At Lejeune, Hillsborough recruiters saw about 400 people at their booth, where a television played a promotional video featuring the agency's veterans.
Stoll was one of veterans in the video. Some of the Lejeune Marines recognized him.
"They said, 'That guy taught me in the Marine Corps,' " said Hillsborough Sheriff's Maj. Alan Hill, of the training division. "It was a good connection to see."
The department has advertised at bases across Florida and regularly visits Tampa's own MacDill Air Force Base, Hill said. But the agency is always short on deputies. With about 2,200 deputies, it's one of the largest in the country, and employees regularly retire.
The agency currently has 180 law enforcement jobs open and 133 open detention deputy positions.
It can be hard to fill those ranks when the hiring standards are so strict. Between a background check, physical test, lie detector evaluation and interview, only about 10 percent of applicants are hired.
Former members of the military are some of the most successful. That's because much of the Sheriff's Office is paramilitary in style, and veterans are accustomed to boot camps, teamwork and taking orders.
"They're going from serving their country to serving their community, much in the same way," Hill said.
Over the past several years, recruits have had to make it through a two-week boot camp in Lithia called "Sheriff's Orientation Training," or SOT. It is physically and mentally demanding, and Stoll previously worked as a SOT instructor, barking orders at recruits much like in the Marine Corps.
He says it's obvious which trainees are veterans.
"They know how to communicate. They know how to lead," he said. "And that's obvious from Day 1 when they enter the SOT program. They act, walk and talk different."
Hill says the agency should know the success of its hiring effort in coming months, as service members transitioning out of the military apply to the Sheriff's Office. Regardless, they plan to continue promoting at bases both in Florida and out of state.
"We want people exiting the military to know this is an option," Hill said. "And this is a good way to get the word out."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.