When it was established in 1797, the Master-at-Arms (MA) rating specified that Sailors with that job were to be petty officers appointed by ships’ captains. Although the rating was disestablished in 1921, a Specialist position of Shore Patrolman and Security was established to carry out many of the MA’s duties in the years before and after World War II, with a Shore Patrolman rating being created in 1948 but subsequently disestablished in 1953.
The MA rating was re-established 20 years later on August 1, 1973 by the Chief of Naval Personnel, and Masters-at-Arms performed the sort of law-enforcement and military-justice duties associated with the Military Police in the Army or Marine Corps. That changed drastically following the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000 and the subsequent attacks on September 11, 2001; with Naval forces deploying to a wide array of locations around the world, the need for specialized anti-terrorist forces dramatically increased. Consequently, the number of MAs grew more than six-fold, from under 2,000 at the start of the millennium to 11,000 by 2007.
Today, there are six highly specialized jobs or “strands” within the MA rating: Security Force Specialist, Investigator-Protective Service Officer, Independent Duty Master-at-Arms, Mobile Security Force Specialist, and Trainer/Planner. With the myriad challenges presented in waging the Global War on Terrorism, the duties encompassed within those strands are widely varied. Some come as no surprise, such as operating brigs and conducting law-enforcement operations, crime-prevention programs, and base security patrols. But MAs are also responsible for the implementation of aircraft security standards, the protection of oil platforms, handling protective services for government officials and visiting dignitaries, conducting river-security operations and U.S. Customs inspections, supervising K-9 teams for narcotics and explosives detection, and conducting waterborne security patrols and interdiction actions.