U. S. Coast Guard — Michael G. Spencer

Published 10:58 pm Saturday, August 23, 2008

The “call to arms” comes in many forms as does those who choose to answer it. While some join the army and go off to fight overseas, some sign up to fight the causes right here at home. Michael G. Spencer answered the call by signing up to protect our U.S. coasts for 28 years. His is the story of a proud career member of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Spencer’s history with this branch of service started even before he was born. His father was in the Coast Guard and his father’s father was in the Coast Guard, so it seemed only natural that he answered his own call in April of 1978.

Having been a Coast Guard brat, Spencer is not really from one hometown. He lived all over. He spent most of his formative years, however, growing up in New Orleans East during the late 60’s, early 70’s. He was born in California and when his dad was transferred back there sometime in the 70’s, Spencer was able to join the Coast Guard from there.

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As he tells the tale, his career path happened in reverse of most others — reserves before service.

Spencer chose to do the RK Reserves Coast Guard Program where he trained over the summer and was sent to drills on weekends once school was back in session. He ended up finishing high school several months early, so instead of waiting till after his commencement ceremony. He went pretty much straight into the Coast Guard. His mother was broken-hearted that she didn’t get to see her son graduate, but Spencer had chosen to start his career — a path he is very glad he chose.

For Spencer’s first assignment, he reported to a ship off the coast of San Francisco. He thought originally that he wanted to train for telephone technician, but after three months of working with wires on the ship, he decided the job was not for him.

Another job he quickly discovered was not for him — Boatswain’s Mate. “I can’t be on those small boats, they’ll kill me,” said Spencer, after recalling his first tragic experience on a 44-footer where he was violently ill all the way out to repair a buoy and all the way back again. While the position was extremely short-lived for Spencer, he was called upon to repeat the duties of Boatswain’s Mate for a three month stint in Hawaii.

In December of 1979, he was sent to Quartermaster school out of Orlando, Fla. He attended signaling school for six weeks and quartermaster school for six weeks for a total of three months before he was sent to North Carolina.

It was there he would meet his future wife, Karen. She was also in the Coast Guard and was stationed in North Carolina working the radios. Spencer’s tour of duty in North Carolina continued for three and a half years.

His next assignment was search and rescue out of Galveston, Texas. “That was an experience,” said Spencer. “I got there in February 1983, and I got qualified in April. My first stand alone watch was Easter Sunday, it was a beautiful day out, no biggie.”

No sooner did he start to breathe his first sigh of relief for a potentially non-eventful first watch and, low and behold, a call came from the Sheriff’s Office in Galveston County that several youth were swept off a nearby beach. Spencer did his job, making sure several boats and a helicopter were dispatched to the scene. It wasn’t until later that he found out it was actually 12 young people at a family outing that got caught up and taken out by a rip tide. Only two of those children were recovered alive. “I said, ‘Whoa, I don’t know if I can do this or not,’ but I ended up doing it for three and a half years,” said Spencer.

Spencer also spent time doing his part in the war on drugs. He told several tales of large drug busts that he was a part of, including one that was ended up being the largest maritime and the largest cocaine bust, 12,000 pounds, of its day. “That was pretty gratifying,” he said.

He also remembers a bust he was a part of while on another patrol boat out of Gulfport. The crew recovered cocaine, hashish and heroine off of a mom and pop sailboat. The boat was boarded just south of Cuba and they turned them over to the Coast Guard in Key West, Fla. Spencer said that he would never forget the look of shock on their faces that the Coast Guard was even working on Christmas Day. He laughed at the memory.

“I missed a lot of Christmases and a lot of Thanksgivings,” said Spencer. And so it was, until retirement.

His final assignment took his family to Carriere in June of 2001. “It was the best tour of duty ever,” said Spencer of his job at Stennis. As Warrant Officer in the National Data Buoy Center, he was allowed to pick and choose his destinations. He continued to travel the U.S.

Eventually, as dad of four — two girls and two boys — Spencer decided in 2006 that his dream job was over and it was time for his retirement “work” to begin.

The plan includes working for the safety and maintenance department for Bridgeway Apartments and, of course, golf every other Friday.

He also chose to stay in Carriere. “I got used to the Pearl River County way of life,” he said.