The U.S. Navy uses its base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for training the crews of surface ships that have just been through overhaul. The process is called Refresher Training, and the crews of the surface ships are put through drills all day long, with proctors looking over their shoulders at all times, grading them. It is a very stressful time for the surface sailors, or "skimmers," as we called them.
A submarine was involved in this skimmer RefTra as a mechanical rabbit. We were the "enemy" most of the time. We got up at 4:00 a.m. to get underway. When we were rigged for dive, and submerged, we then attempted to blockade the harbor. At that point, the skimmers began their day of torture by trying to evade us. We fought them all day. After those exercises were over, we then defended the harbor at the end of the day, and the exhausted skimmers tried to get past us. They were going through hell.
We, on the other hand, were not being graded. We were playing games, like a bunch of kids. It was just a typical 16-hour day at the office for us.
When we were able to put liberty down (allow most of the crew to go ashore) it was usually 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. By that time the 20,000 skimmers had gotten good and drunk, and the fifty submariners who wanted an evening of relaxation were usually punched out before they had a chance for any other form of recreation.
The problem had been solved years before, by having the submarine tie up at the opposite end of the Guantanamo Bay waterfront from the skimmers. We had a small pier of our own, with a barge across the pier from out berth. There was a bar on the barge. Our sailors could get drunk without any skimmers around. We got the same movies as the Enlisted Men's Club, the Acey-Deucey Club, or the Chief's Club. The only drawback was that we were still looking at just the same eighty faces that we saw all the time at sea.
The base at Guantanamo Bay was completely isolated from the rest of Cuba by some hardened political positions in Washington and Havana. This was an example of how the politicians can take something potentially very delightful, namely shore leave, and turn it into something pathetic.
Once I took a tour of the base. It had a desalination plant, since Castro had cut off the water supply to the base. It had lots of minefields. It had a wonderful Caribbean beach, which was off limits, supposedly because of the sharks. All in all, there was nothing about Guantanamo Bay to appeal to either the finer or the baser instincts in us. "Life in Gitmo" was an oxymoron.