By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
ROTA, Spain, Dec. 7, 2014 – The American strategy calling for increased attention to the Asia-Pacific region does not mean other areas of the world are less important to U.S. interests and the growth of the naval base here is a case in point.
In 2010, the NATO allies agreed to increase ballistic missile protection for Europe. Two American Aegis-equipped frigates now call Rota home and two more are scheduled to join them next year.
These are the first American ships home-ported here since Polaris-missile submarines left in the 1970s, U.S. base officials said.
Guarding Against Missile Attack, Pirates
Rota is key real estate, said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey led a USO troupe to the base and visited with sailors aboard the USS Donald K. Ross. Rota’s harbor is on the Atlantic side of the Strait of Gibraltar and the ships typically are considered U.S. 6th Fleet assets which travel the Mediterranean Sea. The forward-deployed U.S. ships guard against a ballistic missile attack on NATO allies from the Middle East.
Rota-ported U.S. ships and crews “also participate in multinational exercises,” said Navy Capt. Greg Pekari, the commander of Naval Station Rota.
“They [also] are doing anti-piracy operations,” Pekari added. “They are doing whatever the U.S. and NATO need to do to protect and guard our allies.”
Close to Libya, West Africa
U.S. ships based here have a proximity to hot spots like Libya and West Africa, officials said. They are also closer to the Black Sea that the USS Ross entered in September to reassure NATO allies in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its aggression in eastern Ukraine.
“There are still a lot of things happening here that requires our attention -- Syria, ISIL, Ukraine,” Pekari said.
“We still have requirements around the world,” he added, noting the ship borne ballistic missile defense assets ported at Rota have a role in meeting those security requirements.
Officials said about 300 Air Force personnel work at Rota, handling maintenance on C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster 3 aircraft that use the base’s airport.
‘Gateway to the Mediterranean’
The Spanish navy hosts the American ships and presence, and sailors and their families home-ported here “hit the jackpot,” according to Pekari.
Officials said the addition of the ships means the base -- billed as the Gateway to the Mediterranean -- is growing. There are currently around 4,000 U.S. service members in more than 30 organizations and their families on base.
Each ship has about 300 sailors assigned, officials said. The number of family members that will arrive is around 400 per ship. “The expectation is we are going to increase by 2,500 to 3,000 Americans over the next couple of years,” Pekari said.
Impacts Base Infrastructure
This is a major increase that will impact the base’s infrastructure, Pekari said, including schools, shopping, the base hospital, maintenance facilities, and contractor support. He said support from the Spanish admiral who manages the base has been first rate and cooperation throughout the Iberian Peninsula has been outstanding.
It will take a couple of years for the base population to build, the captain said, and this is giving U.S. and Spanish officials the opportunity to plan the expansion carefully.
“First-term sailors coming here may not realize how good a base this is to come to because they have nothing to compare it to,” Pekari said. “Don’t get me wrong; they will work hard here. But once work is over, the area and the chance to experience Spanish culture make this area an incredible opportunity.”