Photo courtesy of Derek Spivey/ Originally published August 2017
This May marked 18 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard for Officer Derek Spivey, 38, and on June 5 of this year, he was promoted to Master Chief Petty Officer.
Though he spends most of his time as officer in charge aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Wedge in Demopolis, Ala., Spivey comes home to Clinton as often as he can to spend time with his wife, Tracy Spivey, and daughter, Parker Ann Ainsworth.
Originally from Blairsville, Ga., Spivey explored several career options after high school, but felt he was being called to something else. “I always had a desire to go to Alaska,” he says. So in 1999, Spivey went to the coast guard recruitment office and asked to be sent to the northwestern state. He says, “They told me they would make sure to send me because no one wanted to go there.”
Two months later, he attended an 8-week boot camp in New Jersey before being sent to Kodiak, AK, where he worked aboard a ship in the grueling Bering Sea. But the adventure and beautiful scenery was worth it. “It was hard work,” says Spivey. “But it was also like a paid vacation.”
He quickly fell in love with the work of the coast guard. “I had planned to use the money to go back to school,” he says. “But I was having too much fun.”
Since then, Spivey’s coast guard career has taken him all over the country. From aiding ship navigation along the Mississippi River, to performing search and rescues around the Great Lakes, he’s served in a variety of ways. He’s worked with the Navy to transport nuclear submarines through the Panama Canal to Seattle and was a first responder after Hurricane Katrina.
When he transferred to the Cutter Kickapoo in Vicksburg in 2010, Derek and Tracy chose to settle in Clinton. “We were looking at the schools and decided it would be the best place to live while I was working in Vicksburg,” Derek says. They’ve called Clinton home since then, even as Spivey has been relocated. For the past four years, he’s been stationed on the Cutter Wedge in Alabama, setting up buoys and clearing river channels for boats, among other duties.
But Spivey says one of the biggest challenges was earning his current status as officer in charge. The journey to become E9 takes months of studying for an intense interview process. According to Executive Petty Officer Justin Payne, master chief petty officer is the highest rank in the U.S. Coast Guard, and Spivey is one of only a handful of boatswain’s mates with the title. “They expect you to be the expert,” Spivey. “But you never quit learning. Every day is different.”
While he considers life as a GEO Bachelor to be hard at times, Spivey says his job is ultimately rewarding and he loves working with a team. “I enjoy when I can congratulate the guys and they feel proud of their efforts. That’s what keeps me going,” he says.
“His leadership, proactiveness, and care for his crew set the highest example,” says Payne, who works with Spivey aboard the Cutter Wedge. “He’s got a great sense of humor and creates an atmosphere where everyone wants to come to work.”
Spivey strives to stand by the core values of the U.S. Coast Guard: honor, respect, and devotion to duty. “I really feel fortunate to work for the coast guard,” says Spivey. “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve. I can’t see me doing anything else right now.”
Spivey says he’ll be transferring within the next year, hopefully closer to Clinton. His goal is to get a degree that will help him continue to serve the community.