Fall 2017 Corps Review | Back
By Lt. Javan Rasnake ‘09, U.S. Navy
Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain is a 145-acre naval installation positioned in the northeast of the Kingdom of Bahrain. The base has existed in its current, expanded form since 1997, but a U.S. presence has existed in Bahrain since 1948.
Over 8,000 U.S. military personnel, civilians, and their families live in Bahrain and work on the base, and in addition to providing services to military commands, the base provides life support services to these Americans.
NSA Bahrain is a complex organization. With over 750 personnel spread across nine departments and divisions, order and precision are prerequisites for successful operation. NSA Bahrain is run like a city: We are the service providers (police, fire, emergency medical, and even drinking water) for our citizens, made up of the 147 tenant commands residing on base. A tenant command is a military command that utilizes space on an installation.
Naval installations are chartered to support the “fleet, fighter, and family,” and part of this continuum of support is to provide services at a high standard of excellence so that tenant commands can solely focus on their warfighting mission. Fully focused military commands are the most efficient, and those of us on installations ensure that warfighters never need to worry about quality of civil services, where to get a good meal, or how to entertain their families.
At NSA Bahrain, we operate in a “high speed, low drag” environment. With our tenant commands operating warfighting missions every day, there is no room for error, and personnel must be at the top of their game at all times. NSA Bahrain — and all of our tenants — are highly desired duty stations for those personnel who want a challenge in their careers and are ready to test their skills in a demanding operational environment.
In other words, it’s a great place for Hokies.
As Hokies, we are always on the lookout for those who share our alma mater. While I’ve been the public affairs officer here at NSA Bahrain, I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with several of my former classmates, all in important, challenging jobs: one an operations officer on a ship, one a politico-military staff officer, one a team leader for a civil affairs company. The bottom line is that NSA Bahrain is a place that attracts those who enjoy challenges, so therefore, it attracts Hokies.
Every naval installation has a certain capacity for operations, and installation capacity is best understood by viewing the services bases provide as eight lines of operation. They are: port operations; air operations; safety; security; housing, morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR); fleet and family services; and core.
Port and Air Operations
The operations department of NSA Bahrain is responsible for the two most forward-facing services provided by the installation: provision of capacity for the operation and maintenance of ships and aircraft. Port operations provides the traditional capabilities required by naval bases: the ability to efficiently provide pier space, maintenance, and husbanding services to both forward-deployed and visiting ships. NSA Bahrain is critical to American decision-makers as it provides defensive and offensive options in regional choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al Mandeb. Providing the capacity to host ships ranging in size from patrol coastal craft to aircraft carriers, the NSA Bahrain port operations department provides a scalable capacity for harbor management.
Air operations at NSA Bahrain provides transportation capabilities to Department of Defense equities in the region. In addition to maintaining airport facilities in Bahrain, the air operations department maintains a fleet of Beechcraft C-12 Hurons used for passenger and light cargo transport. The air operations department flies daily missions in support of mission objectives.
Safety and Security
Naval installations are responsible for providing security to the base and tenants. The installation provides services to ensure that the operational tenant commands can concentrate entirely on their missions without needing to concern themselves with management of local security. Therefore, and especially overseas, providing ironclad, professional security is a primary duty.
The security force at NSA Bahrain is manned entirely by a force of Navy Masters-at-Arms, the Navy military police rating. Most of these are young sailors who volunteer for duty at NSA Bahrain to experience the challenges and potential rewards of this high-visibility job. In addition to providing general base security, management of entry and exit points, and other law enforcement functions analogous to a local police department, NSA Bahrain security forces maintain the largest military working dog kennel in the Navy.
NSA Bahrain is responsible for providing core infrastructure to the base and tenants. This core infrastructure mirrors in many ways the services provided by many municipalities in the U.S. This includes water, electricity, communications infrastructure, and air conditioning. The water is provided from a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis facility.
These basic services are required for the operation of all tenants working on NSA Bahrain. All of this work is achieved by a diverse group composed of Navy engineers, civilians, and contract employees.
Shopping, Recreation, and Housing
NSA Bahrain is responsible for much more than just the nuts-and-bolts operation of the installation. Tens of thousands of sailors visit NSA Bahrain each year in the course of ship visits, and most of them have been at sea for extended periods. NSA Bahrain strives to provide services to cater to the needs of these visiting servicemen and women. To meet this goal, many services are provided, including a large Navy Exchange, in addition to a five-star morale, welfare, and recreation program and a housing office.
The Navy Exchange is a department store catering specifically to the needs of sailors and their families. The exchange provides everything from necessities to leisure items and clothes and importantly in Bahrain, where there is no commissary, a very large selection of grocery items. Critically, the exchange provides many American items available nowhere else in Bahrain. Also, the exchange provides a number of additional services, such as a salon and spa, a local souvenir shop, a bike shop, and others.
MWR focuses on fun recreational opportunities for sailors. NSA Bahrain’s MWR program is one of the largest and best in the Navy. In addition to visiting sailors, NSA Bahrain has a large resident population of young and single sailors. MWR provides year-round entertainment including athletic events, concerts from popular artists, and local travel opportunities. MWR also manages many of the service facilities on base, such as the gym, the swimming pool, and even a rock climbing wall. MWR maintains a liberty center specifically for single sailors and even a library.
The housing department fills many roles. In addition to maintaining the housing for personnel on base, the department runs a large program that manages the many personnel living in leased quarters out in town and also organizes hotels for visiting personnel.
The Bottom Line
NSA Bahrain is a capable, flexible operational platform that provides options to our national leaders. The presence of a state-of-the-art port facility in the Arabian Gulf is a major contributor to providing naval presence in the region, which ensures the continued free flow of trade and commerce.
NSA Bahrain is also an example of the importance of leaders of quality and integrity like those produced by the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. High-priority military commands and missions require motivated officers to lead them. As one of the nation’s senior military colleges, Virginia Tech has an obligation to continue producing leaders who not only will lead the personnel under their direct authority, but who will be influencers and thought leaders in the officer corps itself.
The Corps is made for this. As a cadet, I didn’t really understand what Lt. Col. Charles Payne, the deputy commandant for 3rd Battalion, and the other assistant commandants meant when they said that the Corps of Cadets is a “leadership laboratory.” Now I do. The fact is that many officers leading the military services today have not had the opportunity of a leadership lab experience such as we Hokies have. The Corps produces officers who are prepared out of the gate to be leaders in their field. As a Corps graduate, you’ve already experienced peer leadership, task management, small-team objective-based task accomplishment, and innumerable other skills that aren’t built into a civilian experience like they are in the Corps.
I am grateful for my experience in the Corps of Cadets. Virginia Tech, and the Corps, does our nation a great service by providing leaders of character who are ready to take critical jobs in every branch of the military. Whether serving at a critical naval installation such as NSA Bahrain, as an infantry officer, a pilot, or in any other field, the Corps produces leaders who are ready to lead with the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).