Port visits are a morale boost and vital to the mental health of deployed Sailors. In recent months, port visits Navy-wide have been limited or ensured Sailors remain pier side to protect the readiness of the crew during the pandemic.
Recently, Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota was able to provide a morale-boosting port visit for Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Indiana (SSN 789) despite the added requirements and restrictions of COVID-19. While Sailors were unable to leave the installation, they did get to enjoy sun, water, and recreational opportunities during their stay.
Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) Rota and USO Rota, through close coordination with Commander Task Force (CTF) 69, adjusted their usual service offerings to meet the unique challenge of maintaining the crew’s “bubble,” or no outside contact, to ensure readiness. While both programs are used to being highly engaged with visiting ships through face-to-face interaction, they rose to the challenge to meet the mission of supporting the fleet.
“Typically when a ship or sub comes into port, they are coming to get a taste of Spain, relax, and enjoy their visit, and we assist by providing face-to-face services,” said Sara Fine, food and beverage director for Rota MWR. “For this visit, the focus was entirely on crew health and safety and finding ways we can give them the relaxing port visit they deserve with that in mind.”
Fine described the contactless services as counterintuitive based on the usual service model but knowing how appreciative Sailors would be of the port visit reinforced the team’s desire to think outside-the-box.
“Through coordination prior to [Indiana’s] arrival, we were able to schedule deliveries almost daily to the Fleet Center, where they were authorized to utilize the space and maintain their bubble,” said Fine. “The Food and Beverage department supported by providing no-contact catering of food and beverages throughout their visit.”
Exclusive use of the Fleet Center and attached laundry facilities was only one element of the submarine’s visit. The Sailors also got to enjoy a USO Rota-sponsored pool party.
“USO Rota coordinated with MWR to ensure that the submariners had private use of the outdoor pool for a USO Pizza Party,” said DeAnna J. Pazdyk, center manager for USO Rota. “We delivered pizza, [beverages], and beach balls for some safe fun in the sun.”
With the support and assistance of the Spanish Navy, Team Rota was able to provide the Sailors with several beach days. NAVSTA Rota’s Spanish Liaison Office coordinated the exclusive use and access of an isolated beach highlighting the cooperation between the two navies.
The beach days were pre-staged with equipment from MWR and USO provided crew members with beach day basics such as charcoal, sunblock, and recreational items like Frisbees, footballs and beach balls.
Sailors from the submarine also enjoyed private tee times at Rota Golf Course. The Navy Exchange (NEX) Rota provided gangway delivery service to pier and isolated use of laundry facilities. NAVSUP FLC Rota provided the crew with Wi-Fi, Containerized Living Unit, and AFN Cable for pier side relaxation.
“Between the food, the activities and the location, the pool was one of my favorites,” said Chief Electronic Technician Radar Nelson Velasquez, Leading Chief Petty Officer of Indiana’s Communications Division.
NAVSTA Rota has long been a desirable port visit due to its location, activities, and available base services. This port visit allowed CTF 69 and Team Rota to begin reimagining what future port visits may look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Spanish Navy host nation personnel, NAVSTA Rota, Rota MWR, and USO all coordinated with the staff at Commander, Submarine Group 8 to provide an excellent seven-day [Rest and Relaxation] opportunity for the crew of USS Indiana in July,” said. Capt. Ted O’Harrah, Commodore of CTF 69. “They provided our crew a chance to safely recharge their batteries in the midst of the COVID pandemic. I greatly appreciated all of the events our teammates in Rota supported. It demonstrated the flexibility and support our [Forward-Deployed Naval Forces] and host nation can offer to the deployed U.S. forces in Europe.”
The teamwork within Team Rota and with the Spanish Navy ultimately provided the Sailors aboard the submarine exactly what they needed: some relaxation and fun under the Spanish sun.
“Although COVID-19 has really altered the landscape of how we live and work, I think this visit really showed us that the organization is resilient and adaptable,” said Fine. “As we keep living within this ‘new normal,’ we are finding creative ways to ensure the mission of supporting our community is met while still ensuring health and safety needs are met. This port visit has laid the groundwork for us to create a blueprint on how we support future visits during this pandemic.”