Established in 1903, United States Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB), Cuba, is the military’s oldest overseas base and one of the most remote military bases in the world. It’s home to approximately 5,000 military personnel (active duty and reservists), military dependents, Department of Defense (DoD) civilians and government contractors. NSGB serves as the Navy’s strategic logistics installation for routine, contingency, counternarcotic and migrant operations in the Caribbean region.
The Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department (MWR) is the base’s sole recreational program provider. While residents have access to 45 square miles of beautiful beaches, pristine waters and rugged mountain terrain, travel into Cuba from the base remains prohibited. Given its unique location, providing recreational activities at NSGB comes with challenges in facilities management, training and programming.
The remote conditions require the base to be 100 percent self-sufficient in water and electrical production, and quality recreation programs. The aquatics program is a collaborative effort: Two swimming pools are staffed, supervised and administered by DoD employees, and chlorine levels and pump operations are monitored by the base operating support (BOS) contractor. Should a pool chlorinator break down, the facility run low on necessary chemicals or a pump burst without warning, it may take up to three months for repair parts to arrive.
Standard United States Postal Service mail delivery can range from two weeks to one month, and only a small category of parts can be delivered by air transportation. So, if a mechanical part is too large to ship by standard mail, it will be shipped by barge. Barges depart from Jacksonville, Florida, and also carry other cargo, including personal household goods, construction materials and bulk material. The Caribbean crossing periodically can result in a delay of up to three months.
Shifting the previous chlorine gas system to a saline system that can generate chlorine using a salt generator solved the challenge of obtaining the quantities of liquid chlorine necessary to run the swimming pools safely. Though complex, this system allows the facility manager to revert to chlorine tabs if the generator breaks down.
Managers in the continental United States can send staff, managers and lifeguards to conferences or provide trainers on-site. However, travel and other associated costs for comparable education are typically prohibitive for Guantanamo Bay MWR, so having a certified American Red Cross lifeguard instructor and water safety instructor trainer on staff offers flexibility to accommodate training on a locally determined schedule without having to send personnel off the “island.” Having a NRPA AFO instructor on staff also allows the opportunity to ensure that aquatics staff, the installation public works department and resident government contractors receive comprehensive instruction on pool operations, including water chemistry, mechanical systems and pool operations.
In the past 18 months, a new Master’s Swim program for adults of all skill levels, a multitiered youth swim lesson program and a separate youth swim team open to elementary through high school students have been offered.
Having a youth swim team in a remote location is a major community win and brings interesting opportunities for recreation programmers. Teams around the world have the ability to race against others in locally held meets. In contrast, NSGB has no “off base” teams to swim against. Because limited flight availability and restrictions on travel make it difficult to fly off-base or to fly a team on-base to compete with, NSGB addresses this challenge by participating in virtual swim meets with other military bases around the world.
Competing installations hold home meets and time trials on the same weekend, times are shared between teams and a virtual “winner” is decided. As a way of saying “thank you,” teams mail each other swim caps and other souvenirs, providing personnel at both bases with a unique memory. A virtual swim meet was recently held against the Army Garrison Stuttgart, Germany’s Stuttgart Stingrays.
Navy MWR also brings in various entertainers and plans special community events. During the base-wide “Day at the Bay” celebration, the aquatics department participates by helping child and youth programs run water obstacle courses. The department hosted a Polynesian-style dance troupe in June with multiple sold-out dinner performances over a single weekend. In September, Abby and Matt Delaney of Key Log Rolling visited NSGB for a three-day log rolling instructional skill program. Not only did staff members receive training as log rolling instructors, but active duty military and families also had the opportunity to learn the art of log rolling directly from a world-champion log roller. The highly popular event, coupled with the training received, is enabling NSBG MWR to begin its own log rolling program for youth and command physical training programs for active duty and reservist military personnel.
September also saw the launch of the newest MWR endeavor — a water polo clinic. The program offers a unique sport to residents and families, and plans to start a youth water polo league are in development. Another new program features “canoe battleships,” where teams attempt to (safely) sink their opponents by unloading buckets of water into opposing canoes. Water volleyball leagues, full-court water basketball tournaments, monthly dive-in movies, teen night pool parties and AquaFit, a weekly aerobic exercise class, round out the other monthly and quarterly aquatics programs.
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is a unique place for running a swimming program. A bit of outside-the-box thinking and exploring available resources provide multiple fun, relaxing and engaging programs for military personnel, civilians and their families.
Jennifer Bardoni is the Aquatics Director for the Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.