U.S. NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba -- U.S. Coast Guardsmen are helping their Defense Department brethren by working to protect the coasts and waterways of this American military outpost in the Caribbean.
A team of roughly 50 Coast Guardsmen patrols Guantanamo Bay in TPSBs, transportable port-security boats -- or "fast boats" in Coastie lingo.
The Coast Guard detachment here typically assists with port security and escorts Cuban and other foreign vessels through the bay.
"We have Cuban vessels, foreign vessels come through the bay because of the Cuban territory up north of Guantanamo," explained Coast Guard Lt. Robert Rimer, officer in charge of the Coast Guard detachment here. "We provide escorts to ensure that no terrorist attack can come off of them."
The unit also provides armed escorts for high-profile visitors to the naval base. "We provide armed escorts for VIPs," Rimer said. "Our boats will either provide the transportation or provide protection on whatever vessel would be taking them around."
The lieutenant explained that Coast Guardsmen get a lot out of their time at Guantanamo Bay -- generally in six-month tours -- because many training opportunities are available here.
"It's been a nice training ground for us to perfect our skills without being in the public eye," he said. "It's just the military down here. The vessel traffic coming through here is not as extensive as in New York, New Orleans, those kinds of ports."
The Coast Guardsmen have also been able to spend more time than they usually would training on their individual and boat-mounted weapons, and they've conducted training exercises with the Marine security forces here and with personnel from Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Rimer said.
He also appreciates the opportunity to work with members of the other military services. "This allows us to interact with the other services, which we don't always get to do. So we've forged a good relationship with the Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force down here," Rimer said.
For their part, individual Coast Guardsmen seem to love their time at Guantanamo Bay. Where else can they ply the bay in beautiful weather and see dolphins, manatees and sharks?
"This is great," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin Bishop, a health services specialist deployed here from New Orleans who spent seven months in the Persian Gulf in 2004. "This time last year I was back and forth between Kuwait and Iraq, so this is wonderful."