Basketball lessons shape Maui emergency responder’s philosophy
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Destynee Hives-McCray, right, mission specialist, private property debris removal team, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Fort Worth District project manager and Vandi Leheny, left, mission manager, PPDRT, and USACE, Fort Worth District project manager prepare schedules and maintain accountability at the emergency field office on Maui, Sept. 13. Hives-McCray played basketball at Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian university from 2011 to 2016 and attributes lessons learned as an athlete with many life and career lessons. (Photo Credit: Brannen Parrish) VIEW ORIGINAL
Basketball lessons shape Maui emergency responder’s philosophy
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Destynee Hives-McCray, right, mission specialist, private property debris removal team, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Fort Worth District project manager and Vandi Leheny, left, mission manager, PPDRT, and USACE, Fort Worth District project manager prepare schedules and maintain accountability at the emergency field office on Maui, Sept. 13. Hives-McCray played basketball at Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian university from 2011 to 2016 and attributes lessons learned as an athlete with many life and career lessons.

As a mission specialist, Hives-McCray is the 'right hand' of the mission manager. (Photo Credit: Brannen Parrish)
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Mission specialists deployed with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ private property debris removal teams have many responsibilities. Whether it’s maintaining accountability, scheduling meetings or filing or reporting activities.

Destynee Hives-McCray, a mission specialist with the PPDRT on Maui supporting the federal response to the Aug. 8 Hawai’i wildfires, said playing Division I basketball taught her lessons to help her succeed in the challenging role.

“Communication is key. You must be able to tell people what it is that you need, what you're capable of and what's happening,” said Hives-McCray, a USACE Fort Worth District project manager. “I think everybody can appreciate transparency on some sort of level, and on the court, it was all about verbal communication, seeing where your defender is and being able to read the defense. You have to read your situation and act accordingly.”

Mission specialists account for deployed personnel, schedule activities and relay information to team members. It’s fast-paced work that requires flexibility and multitasking.

“Destynee, as the mission specialist, is my right hand,” said Vandi Leheny, PPDRT mission manager and Fort Worth District project manager. “She assists with personnel accountability, time, and reporting. She concurrently stays situationally aware on all the things that I am working on to be ready to step in and back me up when required.”

Hives-McCray attended Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. She began playing basketball in middle school at 13, but she began receiving scholarship offers by the start of her junior year.

After committing to Southern Methodist University, Hives-McCray spent four seasons as a power forward for the Mustangs and graduated with a degree in geophysics and seismology. After graduation, she transferred to Texas Christian University where she earned a learned about the power of mental imaging and visualization.

“We had a mental strength and conditioning coach who would come in and work with us on visualization. We recorded voice memos where we said things like, ‘I see myself hitting the spin move that I worked on all week’ or ‘I’m dropping that three pointer from the top of the key and draining it.’ Mental imaging and visualization are crucial for getting the things you want out of life.

After completing a Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences from TCU, Hives-McCray attended the University of San Francisco and graduated with a Master of Science in Environmental Science in 2019.

Hives-McCray joined the Fort Worth District as a project manager in June 2022. She oversees three projects taking place in Hawai'i and said she feels a special connection to the islands. After seeing an email requesting debris team volunteers for Maui, she said she felt a strong desire to help and requested the assignment. She believes that same desire exists with the entire team.

“To sacrifice being in the comfort of your own home, sacrifice doing your day-to-day job, or to leave your family to be out here takes a special person and a certain heart. You have to be generous to give your time,” said McCray-Hives. “Being of service to people is not something that interests everyone, and I think when it does interest you, you have to act on it. And I think those are the people we have coming in and deploying out here.”