One might ask, “why Spain?” “Why are Americans here?” “The answer is quite simple,” said a Navy source. “Spain is located between the Middle East and the U.S. The Kingdom of Spain is a very important ally to the United States for projecting military power into the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Middle East. The two countries have significant shared security interests, and Spain has traditionally supported U.S. forces deployments and operations with U.S. forces departing Spain directly into international air and sea space. The relationship is perfect,” he said.
The Spanish Navy was responsible for a number of major historic achievements in navigation, the most famous being the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. For several centuries, the Spanish Navy played a crucial logistical role in the Spanish Empire and defended a vast trade network across the Atlantic Ocean between the Americas and Europe and across the Pacific Ocean between Asia and the Americas. But it was under the leadership of Francisco Franco, a Spanish General and politician who ruled over Spain as a dictator under the title Caudillo, that a historic alliance commenced with the visit of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to Spain in 1953. The alliance took two years of surveys, negotiations and planning between the U.S. and Spain. Franco considered the alliance as a way to strengthened relations with the United States in order to improve local economies. That alliance was given the name Naval Station (NAVSTA) De Rota.
Like most military installations, one would expect to find all things military. But what makes this particular base unique, is that it is home to 6,000 Americans. Of those, 2,800 are on active duty, 2,900 are family members, 300 are civilians and there are 300 U.S. military retirees in the area. The U.S. is represented by Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corp. The base is owned by the Spanish and commanded by a Spanish Admiral. Leading the U.S. Navy is a Commanding Officer. Both high-ranking officials conduct day-to-day operations in a separate headquarters building.
Only 43 minutes from the city of Cadiz, Naval Station De Rota is located directly across the entrance into the town of Rota Spain. The Spanish installation occupies 6,100 acres (24.7 sq. miles) of land. For reference, the Dutch town of Amersfoort is 24.63 sq. miles. NAVSTA Rota provides cargo, fuel and logistics support to units transiting the region, supporting U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ships with three active piers; U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force aircraft with a 670-acre airfield; and the largest weapons and fuels facilities in Europe, all located within a single, secure fence-line, guarded by surveillance cameras.
At the entrance of the installation are large concrete barriers, which prevents vehicles from trying to drive directly through the front entrance. A Spanish military guard, with weapon in hand, stands on duty, only allowing authorized personnel on board the installation or base, as it is known to Americans. At the exit side of the entrance, stands a U.S. Navy guard, also armed. The Spanish Navy flag is the only flag that is allowed to be present on installation. The American flag is only present on the 4th of July (Independence Day for America) and in the event of a death of an American Sailor, Marine or Airman.
As you enter the installation, there are cream colored Spanish style buildings, each building with a large amount of space in between. The larger trees all have a strip of medal nailed around the base of the trees. The significance of the medal strip, is considered a weapon used to fight the war against a common, invading, enemy…the processionary caterpillar. The medal strips are in place to keep the harmful caterpillar from climbing into the trees and falling on pedestrians. “Between both navies, we have an endless amount of weapons to fight terrorism, but when it comes to these ugly creatures, we only have medal strips,” said a source with the Spanish Navy.
Both Navies are equipped with the everyday amenities of living aboard the naval station. Not all facilities are shared amongst the two countries. Each country has their own medical service, barracks, chapel, and base housing. The installation has the look of a small town without large street billboards, car horns honking at every street light, or pedestrians waiting for the bus or trying to hail a cab. Instead, you can hear and see large construction size trucks driving by and some personally owned vehicles. A large portion of the installation is covered with trees, and open land. There are three security gates protecting the installation, all secured with Spanish and U.S. Navy armed guards. Shared facilities between the two countries are the gym, golf course, dog-park, commissary (grocery store) and exchange (retail store). Inside the stores, both English and Spanish grammar is used. For example, in the meat department, you will see a sign labeled chicken (el pollo). The employees who work in these facilities are primarily Spanish. According to the Agreement for Defense Cooperation (ADC), Spanish employees must occupy 70% of the civilian workforce at all times. There is one movie theater shared by both the Spanish and Americans. “The new Avengers movie has just arrived and as you can see, people are in line, waiting to get in,” said a Navy source.
When asked if there were any responsibilities shared by both Spanish and U.S. Navy, a source for the U.S. Navy said “there are a few joint responsibilities.” One of which is air traffic control. Both Navies work together securing the airspace, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, side by side in an office style, air tower. Airspace is the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a country above its territory. They also maintain surveillance for all incoming Spanish and U.S. naval flights. There is another unique factor to the naval station….Tow Road. “What makes this installation unique is that Tow road is a straight, one mile (1.6km) stretch from the airfield to the sea port. A good example of equipment and/or material transported by air, would be humanitarian supplies. We may have boxes of medical supplies and food flown in from the U.S. and it needs to get to the Middle East or Africa as soon as possible. As soon as the plane touches down, we can easily transport to the port, and load securely onto the ships”, a source explained. The schedules for incoming and outgoing missions are confidential, but according to one source, “the schedule varies each week.” Port Operations handles docking, undocking, installing the oil boom containment for transferring fuel, oil, or oil waste for supply and NATO ships, and Navy warships. At all times, 4 American destroyers and several Spanish ships are docked at the Spanish port, guarded by the U.S. Navy.
“Police control is also shared”, said one source for the installation. “If a U.S. member is stopped for speeding on base, by a Spanish Security Officer, the U.S. Navy Security Officer is called to the scene and vice versa. “There is respect for the uniform on both sides”, he added. “There is also respect for the anthems of both countries. During official ceremonies, the American national anthem and the Spanish anthem is played.”
Base housing is located in one central location onboard the installation. Surrounded by trees, bushes and a chain-link fence, base housing looks like a neighborhood in the middle of nowhere. Majority of the side streets are cul-de-sacs. Off in the distance, you can catch a glimpse of Rota, the town. A source explained that the Spanish live on one side of the main entrance and the Americans live on the other side. The houses are similar in Spanish style and layout. “It is very common to see Spanish kids playing with American kids. They share the same neighborhoods, and playgrounds”, said a source with the Spanish Navy. He also stated “Spanish kids are allowed to attend the American school and American kids are allowed to attend the Spanish school.” Driving past the school yard, you could see children, Spanish and American, playing together. Both schools are equipped with Spanish and American teachers. “There is one event that the Spanish kids really enjoy, trick-or-treat,” he added with a laugh.
In America, Halloween, (Oct 31), is celebrated by children, and some adults, dressing in their scary customs and going door to door collecting candy. It is known as trick-or-treat. Each Halloween, the Spanish Admiral allows children from the town of Rota to come onboard the installation and join the trick-or-treat tradition. “It is mandatory for the high-ranking officials to give out candy on Halloween, from their homes.”
The relationship between the two governments, living and working together is very impressive. What is even more impressive is the connection that the U.S. military has with the local community. “Yes of course, we spend a fair amount of time volunteering in the community”, said a Navy source. “Just recently, some of our servicemen and women participated in a community relations project with Rota’s Saber que se Puede (Association Solidaria de Rota) charity.” The service members helped in off-loading, organizing, and storing 1,900 pounds of food to be used for those in need in the local Rota area. As part of their project, the group of volunteers formed a line and passed boxes of food and milk from the pallet to the inside storage, organizing these boxes in different rooms onto other pallets. “Each year the government supplies our organization with food to give to the community,” said organization member Marian Chari. “Battalion NMCB 133 was able to lend us their strength for the delivery,” said Chari.
There has been a lot of news coverage regarding U.S. President Donald Trump, who is also the Commander in Chief for the U.S. military, conversations of cutting military funding, especially overseas. “Does Naval Station De Rota have any concerns?” Both sources agreed by stating “No. Our mission here is too vital to the overall protection and safety of the Mediterranean.” “The U.S./Spanish cooperation over the past years here in Rota has provided significant benefits for both nations and has created a strategic partnership and lasting personal friendships,” said a source for the Spanish Navy.
Today, the Spanish Navy has around 25,000 men and women who wear the uniform, 138 military ships and 59 aircrafts. The exact numbers attached to Naval Station De Rota is considered to be confidential information.
Note: The names and rank of military members can only be published in official military articles only.