Naval Support Activity Shines During Rare Carrier Visit
By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nathan Schaeffer
Special to American Forces Press Service
MANAMA, Bahrain, May 21, 2009 Naval Support Activity Bahrain rose to the challenge May 16-19 to support the historic visit by USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first American aircraft carrier to dock pierside in Bahrain in more than 60 years.
Navy Cmdr. Mark Light and Ensign Jermaine Jemmott speak with Bahraini military officials May 17, 2009, during a reception aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower docked pierside at Manama, Bahrain. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Bradley Evans
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Thousands of Eisenhower and Carrier Air Wing 7 sailors spent time at NSA Bahrain, with a peak of 3,100 sailors on liberty May 18.
"Having an aircraft carrier at pierside was very significant," Navy Capt. John D. Schoeneck, NSA Bahrain's commanding officer, said. "It demonstrated the capability of the base to support a large influx of transient personnel, proving the concept for the port facility and providing U.S. 5th Fleet with an alternative port of call for the largest classes of U.S. Navy ships. It also re-emphasized the importance of our nation's relationship with the kingdom of Bahrain."
To support the increased number of sailors on base, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the Navy Exchange and Navy Federal Credit Union extended their hours of operation for all programs and services on base.
MWR also offered a host of special programs and events for Eisenhower sailors. MWR officials coordinated a special performance by the Japanese Maritime Defense Band and two Armed Forces Entertainment performances by the Don Barnhart Comedy Tour.
"It's nice to come out and be a part of the team," said Barnhart, recently nominated as 2009’s best comedian in Las Vegas. "It's like being the water boy on the Super Bowl team. Someone has to get the water and refresh them, and that's how I look at my role with all of this. I'm just so grateful to be able to support the men and women who make our country free."
To give the visiting sailors the opportunity to experience the local culture, customs and cuisine, MWR coordinated 38 trips and tours to sites in Bahrain.
Sailors who spent their liberty time on base had a host of MWR programs to choose from. MWR also held multiple sporting activities to include basketball, tennis, racquetball, softball, soccer and flag football events. Eisenhower and CVW 7 sailors fielded 16 basketball teams, 14 softball teams and nine flag football teams May 17 and 18.
"I'm used to playing basketball on the non-skid [hangar bay surface], so being able to come to Bahrain and play on a real court has been great," Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jermaine Bradford of the Eisenhower’s air department said. "All the different sports - basketball, flag football and softball - have been a lot of fun and a good way to get some exercise. The port visit has been a great stress-release. After so many weeks at sea, it's nice to come here and do something relaxing."
The MWR Single Sailor and Liberty Program also gave sailors a place to relax on base, play video games, participate in spades, hearts and Texas Hold 'em tournaments, surf the Internet and chat with loved ones back home.
"This is way more than I expected," said Navy Seaman
Andrew Scott, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 83 aboard Eisenhower. "MWR really had a lot to offer, and I just wish we were here longer so I could go out and do everything. This has been really nice, especially after being on the ship for a few weeks straight."
MWR also held special food events at the officer, chief petty officer and enlisted clubs.
"The entire MWR staff was extremely excited to provide direct service to the Ike and her crew," Tom Linscott, MWR director, said. "It was a total team effort from our staff, who worked 12 and 14 hour days to support this visit."
The NEX and its staff also provided significant support for the ship's visit, and began preparing for the visit several months ago by ordering and stocking its inventory with items that shipboard sailors typically need and want. During the ship's port visit, the NEX also extended its hours until midnight.
"Right up until midnight, our staff was friendly and cheerful and working as hard as they could, stocking, cleaning and helping customers," Dan Cougevan, NEX general manager, said. "From the time the doors opened until midnight, they were dead on, performing great."
The NEX set record sales numbers on both May 17 and May 18, with sales topping $1 million. The record sales resulted in the store earning the top spot as the No. 1-selling NEX worldwide on both days.
"Everyone did a fantastic job, but not just the folks you see on the sales floor," Cougevan said. "There are a lot of folks behind the scenes that you don't see, but they're very important too."
Cougevan also credited the support of the NSA Personnel Support Detachment, which purchased additional change for the NEX.
"It takes a lot to pull this off, and everyone just really stepped up," he said. "I think everyone was just so excited and wanted to make this a success."
Schoeneck agreed. "Overall, the base employees answered the call superbly and were the main reason behind Ike's successful visit," he said.
The last carrier to moor pierside during a liberty call to Bahrain was the 11,373-ton Commencement Bay-class escort aircraft carrier USS Rendova in 1948.
(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nathan Schaeffer serves with
The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command public affairs office. The Naval Support Activity Bahrain public affairs staff contributed to this article.)