Changing of the Guard

Senior Chief Petty Officer Wayne Spritka ends his 24-year Coast Guard career with a change of command on June 11 and then takes up his new job as director of Door County’s Buildings and Grounds Department on June 16.

When the Coast Guard City event was held in Sturgeon Bay on May 10, more than one of the dignitaries who spoke mentioned how many Coast Guard personnel who served at Station Sturgeon Bay choose to call Door County home when they leave the service.

Add Senior Chief Petty Officer Wayne Spritka, officer-in-charge of Station Sturgeon Bay, to the list of those who remain in the area after leaving the Coast Guard.

“We’re hoping to stay here for the rest of our lives,” Spritka recently told the Door County Board of Supervisors when he was introduced at their May monthly meeting as the new director of the county’s Building and Grounds Department.

“He will be an outstanding addition to the Door County team,” said County Administrator Maureen Murphy.

Spritka turns over command of Station Sturgeon Bay on June 11 to Chief Petty Officer John Sehn, who had served as executive commander of Station Sandy Hook, N.J., and then Spritka begins his new job with the county on June 16.

“It’s a big change,” he said. “When you change from duty station to duty station, I show up and there’s 25 other people, men and women, in blue, and we all have something in common. When I show up to a new job, we’re not all standing in blue, we didn’t all go to boot camp, we’re not all likeminded, single-focus individuals, but, hey, these are things you work through. I like to think I’m a people person, that’s why I’ve been able to be successful in command.”

Spritka was a 17-year-old kid from Plainfield, Wis., when he joined the Coast Guard in 1990.

“I didn’t know a lot about the Coast Guard then,” he said.

He went to boot camp in Fort May, N.J., and then received his first assignment.

“Sturgeon Bay and Sheboygan were on the list,” Spritka said. “I had no idea there was Coast Guard in Sturgeon Bay. You don’t think of a coast here. There was another young man from Sheboygan, and no one else wanted to go to Wisconsin. So my first station was right here in Sturgeon Bay. I came here, lived on board. Before my second year I was coxswain, 18 years old, had a crew that was running boats and saving lives.”

A captain recognized Spritka’s leadership skills and suggested he apply for the Coast Guard Academy.

“I didn’t necessarily have the grades growing up in high school, so I went to the Naval Academy Prep School. Then I went to the Coast Guard Academy, so I had three years of academia, and then came back to Sturgeon Bay. Then I went to the Mobile Bay and sailed on her as a young petty officer and drove that ship for a little while. It was great. I was on there for two years. I advanced quickly.”

Seeking a new Coast Guard experience, Spritka decided to try his hand at one of the Coast Guard surfboat stations.

“So I put in for the West Coast, northern California, and we moved to Fort Bragg, Cal., where we had our first child,” he said. “I learned to be a heavy-weather coxswain on the 44’ motor lifeboats (they were retired by the Coast Guard in 2009).”

Spritka was so proficient at the National Motor Lifeboat School in Ilwaco, Wash., that they asked him to be an instructor.

“For me, driving boats and ships, I have a feel for the way they move. It’s hard to train people into that,” he said.

After the West Coast tour, Spritka and his wife Naomi returned to the Midwest, to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

“That was a desk job,” he said. “I was the search and rescue officer for all of Lake Superior, a good portion of Lake Huron and the northern part of Lake Michigan, moving ships around to get them unstuck from ice, trying to help direct traffic.”

His next assignment was a year in Bayfield, Wis., and the Apostle Islands.

“There happened to be an opportunity where the executive petty officer job was available. I had advanced to chief, E-7,” he said.

After that, a position opened on the icebreaker Mackinaw at its home port of Cheboygan, Mich.

“I moved over to the Mackinaw and sailed her for two years, which was just a phenomenal job. Because of working on the Mobile Bay, the Mackinaw was a good fit for me,” he said. “While on the Mackinaw, I did my officer in charge review boards, which allows me to do this position.”

The Mackinaw was decommissioned in 2006 and now serves as the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum in Mackinaw City, Mich. The Spritka’s had their third child in Cheboygan.

His next assignment was in Marblehead, Ohio.

“It was my first taste of airboats and ice rescue,” he said.

“Hurricane Katrina came then, and we were sending crews down to help with relief efforts. We were also sending crews to Red River flooding up in North Dakota. We send crews and airboats there every year to help with the flood relief. There’s a lot of well patient checkups and getting people their medicine.”

That was followed by a return to Bayfield for the Spritka family and Spritka’s first command.

“Going back to Bayfield was just a joy for us,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful area. I love that area. Great sense of community. We hated leaving. We still have a lot of good friends back there. Another place that would have been great to retire to, but I don’t know if the jobs are there.”

The Spritka’s fourth child arrived during that last Bayfield tour.

Then, five years ago, Spritka received orders for his third tour of duty at Station Sturgeon Bay, but this time as officer in charge.

“We couldn’t be happier,” he said. “Our kids thrive academically and have many opportunities. It’s a great fit. It’s beautiful here. Initially my wife was a stay-at-home mom, which is a full-time job in itself. Then she started working at Sevastopol. She’s a teacher.”

Then an opportunity with the county’s birth-to-three program opened and Naomi Spritka became the program’s educator.

“Maybe six months later, the coordinator of the program retired, so they asked her to do that as well, and took those two 30-hour positions and made one 40-hour position.”

Meanwhile, Spritka got involved in the community as a soccer coach and earned a spot on the city’s zoning board of appeals.

“I like being involved in the community,” he said, adding that he looks forward to becoming even more involved as a civilian and county employee.

“Over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of civil engineering projects,” he said. “I’m not a civil engineer, but as a boatswain’s mate, you’re a jack of all trades, so I’ve had my hands in a lot of different projects. I think it will be a good fit. Challenging because it’s a little bit bigger. Good. I’m ready for it.”