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Eric Uzelac, left, Liberty Program coordinator for Naval Station Rota, Spain, watches as sailors from the base Supply Department help themselves to pizza during the March 23 pizza party and Liberty Program presentation.
Eric Uzelac, left, Liberty Program coordinator for Naval Station Rota, Spain, watches as sailors from the base Supply Department help themselves to pizza during the March 23 pizza party and Liberty Program presentation. (U.S. Navy)

When officials at Naval Station Rota, Spain, decided that they weren’t extracting enough information about what single servicemembers do with their free time, they turned to a method that’s not covered in the Geneva Convention: free pizza.

Rota’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Liberty Program — which focuses on providing younger, single military personnel with on- and off-base events and entertainment — is no longer waiting for them to come to the facility.

Now Liberty personnel go to servicemembers with afternoon pizza parties, trading pizzas for ideas and e-mail addresses.

Program personnel had been holding monthly meetings in which selected sailors were required to attend and present ideas to the Liberty folks, then take new information back to sailors in their commands.

“We felt the way we used to do it wasn’t working as effectively as we’d liked,” MWR’s Bill Bray said.

“The liberty program here in Rota is different [from others],” program coordinator Eric Uzelac said. “I’m competing with everything right outside the gate.”

And the draw from Spanish nightclubs and beachfront bars is strong. But so is fresh, hot pizza.

The program took to the road March 23, visiting the base’s Supply Department.

“Yesterday went great,” Uzelac said the day after the event. “I got exactly what I wanted out of it and then some. Everyone in the room … spoke up and said something.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Fernando Perez was among the 17 sailors at the lunchtime event.

“I’ve been here 1½ years and that’s the first time I’ve seen something like that,” he said.

This new approach is something that sailors think will get more people involved in Liberty programs.

“I know it’s going to work,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Harbin, a seven-year Navy veteran. “That’s a fantastic way to get information.”

The pizza was the bait, but the presentation and feedback is the hook.

“It’s like a time-share concept,” said Uzelac. “When you go out and talk to the sailor, there’s nothing better than word-of-mouth and a real person telling you how great something is.”

The sailors believed that e-mails about upcoming Liberty events will be helpful, especially for those who live off-base like Perez, who said if he sees something that interests him, he’ll go.

“If they keep up with the program … more people will know what’s going on,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Michelle Royal, a 10-year Navy veteran.

She hasn’t spent much time at the Liberty center since arriving in Rota last November, but expects that to change.

“I’ve already been looking at some of their trips,” she said.

Want a pizza feed?

The first pizza party and program presentation by the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Liberty Program was held on March 23 for 17 sailors in the base Supply Department.

Additional party/presentations will be held for both the supply and air operations departments.

MWR Recreation Director Bill Bray said that commanders who want a presentation for their sailors, airmen or Marines should contact the office and set a date.

“Whenever they call and ask us, we’ll do it,” he said. “We’ll keep doing it as long as it gets results.”

Commands can contact either Bray or program coordinator Eric Uzelac at DSN 727-1516 or 727-2527, or by e-mail at liberty@rotamwr.com.

— Jason Chudy

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