GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Fifty years ago this week as the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of war, thousands of U.S. Marines flooded this outpost on Cuba’s eastern tip.
A Marine historian, Beth Crumley, said from Quantico, Va., on Monday that between the insertion of a Battalion Landing Team and reinforcements, the number of Marines here swelled to perhaps 5,000 – not including “aviation assets who were flying in the area off carriers.”
Now, thanks to technology and détente, the Marines’ detachment guarding Guantánamo’s 17.4-mile perimeter are truly just a few good men.
They number about 120.
The unit is so small, in fact, that fewer Marines work for the major in charge of the fence line security unit than workers do at the base’s recreation department, a division of 179 contract workers, mostly foreigners, who tend bar, keep up the swimming pools, tennis courts, golf, bowling alleys and rental sailboats.
It didn’t happen all at one time. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the base reduced the number of Marines unit on guard across the Cubans’ minefield by adding bright lights and security cameras along the minefield.
Meantime, the Navy has poured in more and more resources to its “Morale, Welfare and Entertainment” division — run by a Pentagon contractor whose job is akin to a social director on a cruise ship — opening an Irish pub, expanding the nightly first-run Hollywood movies and airlifting in a stream of celebrities to shake the troops’ hands.
Now, alcohol here is both an emphasis and a concern. Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor who peddles Dos Equis beer as “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” arrives to sign autographs later this week, just weeks after the new Navy base commander upended tradition and banned booze at the downtown, walk-up open air cinema.