Marine Corps Security Forces Company tours
of the North East Gate occur once per month and are open to U.S.
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and Joint Task Force personnel. Here,
Troopers can get a rare view of the Cold War-era physical barrier
between the communist and American naval station sides of Cuba.
Background: Marine Staff Sgt. Jonathan Whatley led the March 16,
2012 tour, which delved into Marine pride and the naval station's
tense history. Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kilho Park
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (3/22/2012) - From a historical military
perspective, when you think about gates or borders the demilitarized
zone separating the two Koreas or the Berlin Wall's Brandenburg gate
come to mind. Here in Guantanamo Bay we too have a border, still
scattered with mines from a bygone era and a gate (though not as
grandiose as Brandenburg).
The North East Gate is the
northern entry point separating Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NAVSTA
GTMO) from the rest of Cuba. Closely guarded by the Marine Corps
Security Forces Company (MCSFCO) with a heavily fortified fence line
and strategically placed observation towers, the gate has seen its
fair share of history which makes NAVSTA GTMO what it is today.
Access to the North East Gate is rare and strictly prohibited
unless personnel are escorted by a member of MCSFCO. Tours are
offered for all those stationed and working on island, every third
Thursday of every month at 11 a.m. Sign up at the MCSFCO
headquarters building during regular business hours.
United States leased the land that is NAVSTA GTMO from the Cuban
government in 1903, the North East Gate was established as the
checkpoint for up to 3,000 Cuban commuters who would move in and out
of the base on a daily basis. In 1958, when vehicle traffic was
prohibited, the number of commuters dropped to 300. Of those 300,
only two continue the trek today.
In 1964, Commander in Chief
of Cuba's military and Prime Minister, Fidel Castro cut off the
fresh water supply to the base to protest the U.S. arresting 17
Cuban fishermen for violating territorial waters off the Florida
coast. When Castro accused the Americans of stealing water,
then-Base Commander Rear Adm. John D. Bulkeley invited media to
watch as the cast iron water pipe was cut at the North East Gate as
proof to the contrary. The cut pipe is prominently displayed today
by the gate's main observation tower.
The competition of national pride between the Cubans and
American Marines grew at the North East Gate after Castro
took control over Cuba.
At the barracks on top of
the hill where Marines would sleep during off hours, Cuban
personnel would throw rocks on the tin roofs to keep them
awake. So the Marines built a 40-foot high fence to prevent
the rocks from making it over.
Then the Cubans used
to climb the fence and hang metal objects from hangers to
make noise in the wind. So the Marines fortified the fence
line with barbed wire.
Cubans used a spotlight on the
barracks to keep the Marines awake at night for a month.
Bulkeley erected a tent on the hill where the barracks was
located and had laborers work on a “secret project.”
At the end of the month, when the Cubans used the spotlight
on the barracks once more, the tent came down and the
spotlight would hit a hill-sized globe, eagle and anchor,
the insignia of the United States Marine Corps. The
spotlighting stopped immediately.
North East Gate
tour guide Marine Staff Sgt. Jonathan Whatley honors and
respects the rich history of his beloved Marine Corps and
their history here in Guantanamo Bay.
“Here we are
stationed in a communist country in the oldest naval station
outside the U.S.,” said Whatley. “It's an awesome amount of
pride knowing that Marines were here since 1898 during the
Spanish-American War and the work we've done since.”
For others, getting access to such a restricted area of the
base and receiving some historical perspective was enough to
warrant time for a look-see and to take the tour.
wanted to see what the gate was all about,” said Chief Petty
Officer Edwin Schulze, of the Coast Guard's Maritime Safety
and Security Team San Diego. “Seeing the entrance and
getting a glimpse of the history of Guantanamo Bay is very
For Marine Capt. Kristy Milton, it was her
last day on island and her one and only chance to tour the
North East Gate and see it up close.
“The North East
Gate tour was very informative, giving us the background and
history of this place and of Cuba as well,” she said. “When
you think of Guantanamo, you don't just think about the JTF
(Joint Task Force) side, you think of the Marines guarding
the fence line, the towers and movies like 'A Few Good Men.'
You see it up close, it's something everyone who comes to
Guantanamo Bay should come and see.”
By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kilho Park
Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public
Comment on this article