Veterans Who Served at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, 1962 to Today
One of the most anomalous and controversial pieces of real estate in the world is Guantanamo Bay Naval Base located on the southeastern tip of Cuba.
We talk with US service members who have spent time there, including former Inspector General Navy Commander Richard Boehm, who served at GITMO in 2007-2008.
The base hosts some 6,000 Joint Services personnel, Department of Defense civilians, family members, contract personnel, local and foreign national employees.
The story of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base begins in 1903 when the United States secured a lease agreement with Cuba under the Platt Amendment. This agreement gave the U.S. control over the bay’s territory, primarily for coaling and naval purposes. Over time, the base expanded to accommodate a wide range of facilities, including airstrips and a naval station. The base played a significant role during the Cold War, serving as a strategic outpost for the U.S. military. In 2002, the prison at GITMO began holding alleged unlawful alien combatants, a controversial practice of indefinite detention without trial.
Erica Webster and Jeffrey Fewell both served as 31-Echo “Corrections/Detention Specialists” at the base 2002-2005 and share harrowing stories of the grueling 12-hour-a-day job focused on the safety and well-being of the detainees. The primary mission of the base, however, was intelligence gathering, not detention. That made the job especially difficult. they did have access to classified intelligence and while they weren’t allowed to share much, they were getting accurate and actionable intelligence while they were there.
Pat D’Amico served in the Army as a 95-Bravo MP at Guantanamo Bay in 1991 as a response to the Haitian migrant crisis and the court case that led to the increase in the number of Haitian migrants that could be held at Guantanamo Bay. Pat stayed in a tarantula-infested bomb shelter and dealt with organized criminal gangs and riots.
Marine Corps Dennis Thompson talks about serving at Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. They were handed live ammunition and had very little sleep for weeks in anticipation of a US invasion of Cuba. Dennis was stationed at Leeward point guarding the defense line.
Ben Wright flew into and out of Guantanamo Bay, noting that staying out of Cuban airspace is a big emphasis and that procedures are in place to ensure safe travel.
The perimeter is heavily fortified with 50,000 mines with sensors and outposts around the bay to monitor incoming ships. There are also bunkers and Marine aircraft flying overhead at night to patrol the area. Recon plane fly along the fence line and take photographs for security purposes.
Several other veterans and family members who lived there talk about the day-to-day life on the base and the challenges faced by personnel.
Listen to descriptions of the beaches, the extreme heat, the cactus hedges, iguanas and aggressive banana rats.