Finding love of the game at Guantanamo Bay
Last week, I had the honor of traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to play for our troops and their families stationed in America's oldest continuously functioning overseas base.
Established in 1903, the Naval Station currently supports the Joint Task Force that oversees the detainees captured in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. The base also provides Fleet logistical support, employs migrant operations for Cuban and Haitian refugees, and supports contingency/counter-drug operations. During my stay, I was privileged to meet members of all five services and their families, whose sacrifice protects our freedom. It was an illuminating and humbling experience, and not without its share of hockey talk.
I was flown into GITMO on a six-seat C-12 naval aircraft piloted by Lieutenant Scott Anderson and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Robert Turner. The trip took about three hours out of Fort Lauderdale and American planes are not allowed into Cuban airspace, so we were forced to fly completely around the island.
Naturally, I got to know my hosts a little bit during my visit. Lt. Anderson told me he flew P-3's in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and that he's married with two children. Given the name of my band, the subject of hockey was never far behind. It turned out that Gitmo has its fair share of avid fans.
For instance, Lt. Anderson is a Penguins fan. Favorite player: Mario Lemieux. Favorite memory: Super Mario going coast-to-coast to score against the Blackhawks in the 1991-92 Stanley Cup Final. Scott's pumped about Crosby and crew, though frustrated with the flux the franchise has suffered the last few years.
Once in Gitmo, I was given a tour of NE Gate by Corporal David Dean and his fellow marines. Corporal Dean -- known as "DD" -- hails from Dickson, Tennessee and is a fan of the Predators and the Red Wings. His favorite players: Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman. DD added that Wayne Gretzky was "patsy" during his playing days. Not a surprising sentiment from a marine who likes hockey fights. DD's fondest game memory is of a brawlfest between the Kings and Stars.
One of DD's duties is to patrol the American/Cuban border fence here. The NE Gate which was a transit point for Americans and Cuban base workers pre-Castro. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro forbade Cuban citizens to work at Gitmo with the exception of 300 who were already employed at the base. Today only three of the 300 are left, crossing through the NE gate daily.
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