Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NAVSTA GTMO) is the oldest overseas U.S. Naval base and the only base located in a communist country. But that’s just the beginning of the unique environment its housing staff lives and works in, according to Installation Housing Program Manager Rudy Sammons. The base has been totally self-sufficient with its own power and water sources for more than 50 years, in addition to being home to the oldest continuously operating overseas Department of Defense Dependents School (DoDDS) in the world, which opened in 1931.
NAVSTA GTMO is a restricted base with no off-base access. “Except for maybe Diego Garcia, another difference from other bases is that everyone who lives, works, and visits the base relies on us to provide berthing,” Sammons said in a phone interview. All housing is government-owned. Housing assignments are made before arrival to Guantanamo Bay. Dependent Entry Approval (DEA) issued by NAVSTA GTMO is required for travel of dependents and is contingent upon availability of housing. Family Housing consists of 726 units in 17 neighborhoods—the number of units is growing as new construction is accepted. Unaccompanied Housing consists of almost 3,000 bed-spaces, which include the Joint Task Force. Navy Gateway Inns & Suites (NGIS) has an additional 1,400 bed spaces—1,000 of which are used to house third-country national employees on a reimbursable basis.
There are 15 Family Housing (FH) and Unaccompanied Housing (UH) staff positions to care for this large community. UH daily operations, such as check-in and check-out, are performed by 125 NGIS staff and are reimbursed under a Memorandum of Agreement. With an average turnover of three years, the housing program is in continuous training mode. Fortunately, there is an active-duty military and DoD civilian spousal employment program. Sammons’ staff serves a very diverse group of residents: military, DoD civilians, foreign national employees who work for DoD, third-country national employees who work for contractors, JTF, and family members of some. Another group, designated as Special Category Residents, is mainly comprised of Cubans, who sought refuge on the base in January 1961 when diplomatic relations were severed with Cuba. Many still live and work there today. Providing customer service for an aging population is just another distinctive feature of the Guantanamo
Bay Housing Department.
Housing office initiative:
There are currently two MILCON contracts funded to improve the quality of life:
1.) FY09 funded contract to demolish and rebuild 146 enlisted, company, and field-grade officers’ quarters—30 completed and 116 still to come on line.
2.) FY11 contract to demolish 71 units; no units have been completed to date.
NAVSTA GTMO presents several interesting, one-of-a-kind challenges to the upbeat, resourceful Navy Housing staff. (Who else has to advise their residents about steps to take to keep their car hoses safe from “banana rats,” or hutias?) But the recipients of Professional Housing Management Association’s 2012 “Outstanding Housing Installation Team” are qualified and competent to meet them.
Originally published in Defense Communities Magazine.