President Donald Trump spoke to a representative of every branch of the military from the Oval Office through videoconference call on Christmas Day, and one of them is originally from Hilton Head Island.
Lt. Matthew Spado, a command duty officer for Sector Juneau and a member of District 17 of the United States Coast Guard, was selected to represent the entire branch of the military in speaking with the president on Tuesday. Although he is stationed in Alaska, Spado grew up on Hilton Head and went to school at The Citadel in Charleston.
Spado, who characterized his job as the “911 center for coastal command” in Southeast Alaska, said Wednesday he took the opportunity to demonstrate to the president the work of the Coast Guard.
“It was a very proud moment for me to speak to the president and represent the Coast Guard,” he said.
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President Trump asked Spado about his unit’s experience with the recent 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck near Anchorage on Nov. 30. Spado acknowledged that his unit was not close to the quake, but he said he knew of structural damage in that area.
The president replied to Spado that the people of Alaska were “very lucky” the quake led to no loss of lives.
In preparing to speak with President Trump, Spado said Wednesday he learned he was selected to represent the entire Coast Guard only two or three days before speaking to the commander-in-chief.
“The initial feeling I had was that I needed to be prepared and knowledgeable about what the Coast Guard is currently doing,” he said. “I talked with senior officers and prepared to the best of my abilities.”
When asked if the earthquake question caught him off guard, Spado said he knew the earthquake could be a “higher-level question” the president might ask about.
“I made sure to make my comments brief and tried to wrap up the answer quickly,” he said.
The 33-year-old Spado said he was inspired to enlist in the military in part by his grandfather, who served in the Navy.
However, it was his upbringing on Hilton Head along the coastline that inspired him to pursue a career with the Coast Guard.
“I would like to serve a full 20 years in the Coast Guard, or more,” he said.
Before beginning his assignment in Sector Juneau, Spado served three-year stints each in Philadelphia and Williamsburg, Va. He’ll be assigned to a new location in June and said he’s excited for the future.
“I’m never surprised at the opportunities the Coast Guard has given me, and maybe they’ll get bigger and better as I advance my career,” he said.
Spado said his wife and two children were extremely excited to see him represent the Coast Guard, as was his mother, Christine.
“My husband Joe and I, we were so proud of him,” Christine said Wednesday of her son. “We’re just so thrilled. It’s quite an honor.”
Despite the individual attention the experience brought Spado, he said he was proudest that he could represent the Coast Guard on such a stage.
“It’s one of those special moments that will stick with me,” Spado said. “It definitely ranks up there with the opportunities I’ve had with the Coast Guard so far in my career.”