We are beginning a new series to highlight the law enforcement and first responders of our region. We call it “Beyond the Badge.” Not only do these men and women put their lives on the line to protect and preserve our public safety, often they achieve remarkable things away from their chosen field or perform acts of courage not typically in their job description - literally beyond the badge.
For MHP Trooper Tierney Wienholz, her road to the classroom took an unexpected turn and led her to making a difference as a member of the Montana Highway Patrol.
Like the cruiser she drives across north-central Montana, Trooper Wienholz’s career has been like a winding road.
She graduated college with a degree in education and special education just before Covid 19 turned the world upside down.
“I was kind of walking into the teaching world knowing I was going to be teaching online which was definitely not what my hopes and dreams of being a teacher equated to,” said Wienholz.
Law enforcement runs in Wienholz’s blood. Her uncle is a detective with the Great Falls Police Department.
Her brother, Kaleb Larson, is also a detective with GFPD and serves as a big inspiration.
“He's somebody specifically that I look up to very, very much and I don't think he necessarily gets enough praise for what he does,” said Wienholz. “He's one of the few detectives in the city that deals with special victims.”
Wienholz decided to follow in their footsteps, first as a Cascade County detention officer then as a member of the Highway Patrol, two very different jobs.
“Every single person I run into is not necessarily getting arrested and going to jail. So every single interaction I have isn't necessarily with somebody who's having a bad day,” said Wienholz. “I would consider most people that are incarcerated to not be having their best days. They're incarcerated.”
Wienholz says helping people is her number one goal and although she traded the classroom for a patrol car, the lessons learned studying special education serve her well, especially when it comes to mental health.
“It's very eye opening to me, even to see that my skills that I learned in college in that realm are probably even more useful in law enforcement than they may have been teaching in a standard classroom,” said Wienholz.
Co-workers say she’s already established herself as one of the top DUI enforcers in the state.
“Personally, I don't think that there's from what I've experienced in my life, there's not anything worse than having somebody innocent die who's just trying to get from one place to another as a result of somebody else who just made a reckless decision to get behind the wheel impaired,” said Wienholz.
Wienholz says DUI enforcement is something she’s passionate about. She says she’d much rather find impaired drivers before they cause serious injury or even death to others or themselves.
“I’ve had people I’ve arrested for DUI that are in the end very thankful that I arrested them because they realized the seriousness of the situation that they might not have realized when they made the decision,” said Wienholz.
The 26-year-old Great Falls High School graduate was recently certified as a drone pilot allowing her to assist with mapping serious injury and fatality crash scenes.
With a passion for helping people, she’s eager to assist other first responders, including her fiancé, a firefighter whom she supported in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Firefighter Stair Climb in Seattle. The future husband and wife are constantly pushing each other.
“So even when I was going through the law enforcement academy, I pushed myself very hard when I was training for that, and he helped me with that,” said Wienholz. “Then when it came to this, I was helping him. We were at the gym every single day and stair climbing and walking on an incline.”
As a Montanan, she loves the outdoors and the Treasure State provides the perfect place to exercise, recreate, and reflect.
“Even just getting out on a hike and seeing the outdoors and opening your perspective to say, ‘okay, my whole entire life is not just what happens on the job,’” said Wienholz.
Trooper Wienholz also earned some paralegal experience in college and someday hopes to attend law school.
“Education only opens doors for people. I think working in this job every single day, there's something that I can learn about Montana law or better enforcing Montanans constitutional rights,” said Wienholz.
Wherever the winding road may lead, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better than Trooper Tierney Wienholz behind the wheel.
If you have an idea for our “Beyond the Badge” series, drop us a line at email@example.com.
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