U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, hosted its 18th Eco-Challenge, an annual outdoor sports competition that builds camaraderie and strengthens the U.S. relationship with NATO and Hellenic military partners.
Ten teams accepted this year's challenge, with athletes from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, British Royal Air Force, Hellenic Navy, Hellenic Air Force, NATO Missile Firing Installation, and NATO Maritime Interdiction Training Center competing Sept. 7. Individuals from each five-member team participated in one of five events held across Crete’s Akrotiri Peninsula, which is home to NSA Souda Bay: the 10-kilometer hike, 20-kilometer run, 40-kilometer bike, 6-kilometer kayak, or 2,000-meter swim.
Byron Gale, NSA Souda Bay's fitness center director, said the spirit of the event is not just about winning, but also is about bringing people together. "It's about the teamwork of five people completing events together — events that maybe they didn't believe they could do before, but their team gives them the encouragement to finish," he said. "And it's about Team Souda, our host-nation military, and our local community working behind the scenes to make it happen, which is special to watch."
The athletes were not the only participants relying on teamwork for a safe and successful outcome. Since NSA Souda Bay's fire and security departments can only respond to on-base emergencies, coordination with the host-nation militaries, Hellenic police, and local community was vital for safety on Crete's roads and seas.
Partner organizations such as the Hellenic Navy and NATO Missile Firing Installation provided ambulances, doctors and rescue divers. The Hellenic Police stopped traffic and provided escort vehicles during the bike and run events, while the local emergency room had doctors standing by to assist.
The fitness center staff took care of the athletes' health and safety leading up to the event by providing workout routines designed specifically for each event and riding the routes with the participants. During the event, they provided drinks, food, and energy gel at each station.
Athletic competitions allow athletes to test their abilities and validate their hard work. NSA Souda Bay's Eco-Challenge also highlights the U.S. Navy's partnership with its NATO and Hellenic military allies. As the host nation for NSA Souda Bay, Greece is routinely called an important NATO ally by Defense Department leaders due to its strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea and the joint and multinational exercises conducted in the region.
NSA Souda Bay Commanding Officer Navy Capt. Ryan T. Tewell tackled the bike portion of the challenge. He noted the event is about more than just the competition between the military organizations on Crete.
"It's a symbol of the cooperation and the coordination that happens every single day here on the Akrotiri Peninsula between the Hellenic Navy, the Hellenic Air Force, two NATO organizations and NSA Souda Bay," Tewell said. "It's one of my favorite things every year, and I am honored to participate."
NSA Souda Bay is an operational ashore base that enables U.S., allied and partner-nation forces to be where they are needed and when they are needed to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia.