Click through photos from the Change of Command ceremony above
Master Chief Curtis Dewey is retiring from the Coast Guard with nearly 32 years of service under his belt, but that won’t keep him off the ocean. He’s already landed a dream job as a deep-sea fishing guide.
Dewey’s exit from military service will be marked by a change of command ceremony on May 31 at Coast Guard Station Tillamook Bay. Senior Chief Boatswains Mate Corbin Ross will relieve Dewey of command and take over the station. It is a time-honored military tradition to conduct a formal change of command for new leadership.
Dewey has been the Officer in Charge in Garibaldi since 2014 and has 46 active-duty personnel under his command. He was familiar with the area beforehand and had always hoped for a chance to be stationed there, finding the opportunities for hunting and fishing particularly attractive. Big on sharing what he catches or kills, he judges his wealth by the meat he stocks in the freezer.
An avid trout fisherman by the time he graduated high school in New Mexico in 1987, Dewey was eager to catch a steelhead. He knew he was going to join a branch of the military, and the Coast Guard was the only one that could promise an Alaskan deployment for his first tour. He knew for a fact that Alaska had great steelhead fishing, and he couldn’t get there on the $3.25 an hour he was making.
“Sure enough, they sent me to Ketchikan, Alaska,” Dewey said. “I caught my first steelhead and decided I’m never getting out.”
That first of many steelhead was caught the first spring in Alaska, thanks in part to a mentor fisherman who specialized in catching steelhead – his boss, a Petty Officer 1st Class. A fresh-faced Seaman Apprentice at the time, Dewey was hooked. He has always loved the water – the kid who had to be steered away from puddles and kept out of creeks.
The fishing was a great perk, but the work in the Coast Guard locked in Dewey for a career. Training daily for saving lives, knowing at any moment the call could come, that was incredible to him. He could hardly fathom the notion that three weeks out of boot camp he was jumping on sinking commercial fishing boats and pulling distressed people out of the water.
“It was the most amazing experience I ever had, and I figured there was no way I could do anything else for a living,” he said. “It was straight to work.”
Three decades later, nothing makes Dewey happier than watching his crew operate. He lives vicariously through the eager young professionals who are kept fairly busy on the Oregon Coast. That energy kept him coming back day, along with the rewarding feeling of seeing hard training pay off with lives saved. He recently had an admiral visit the stationhouse, and while on a boat ride over a calm ocean, gray whales swimming nearby, Dewey reflected on the happiness of being paid to do what he enjoys most.
Another big factor over the years is the community support for the Coast Guard. Dewey got chills as he recalled the outpouring of donations to Station Tillamook Bay as a government shutdown took hold in January. Concerned citizens came forward with food, gift certificates, gas cards, and countless other donations.
Dewey said that’s the nature of the Tillamook area, caring for neighbors. He pointed the charity drive work at Tillamook High School that brings in staggering amounts of money for the less fortunate as just one example of the community spirit. Dewey and his wife chose to stay in the community after he retires because of the support it shows for those who serve.
“What they did for us when the government shutdown, I will always be in the debt of this community,” Dewey said. People brought donations every day, stacking up piles outside the gates in Garibaldi. Station Tillamook Bay paid it forward after the government shutdown was lifted, turning around to donate the surplus of food to the local food bank.
Getting right back on the water the day after he retires, Dewey will be running the Alaskan Sunrise for Garibaldi Charters, doing deep-sea fishing trips. He and his wife own a home in Tillamook, and he’ll drive to the exact same spot for work every morning, just a few hundred yards from the stationhouse.
“Everyone said I was going to miss the service when I retire,” Dewey said. “I don’t believe I’m going to miss the service; I’m going to miss the people who came to work every day.”
For those who might be considering a Coast Guard career, Dewey said recruiting is active now. Just keep your nose clean, work with a recruiter, come take a tour of the unit, and you too could be cruising the coast for work and relaxing in a recreational paradise.