Reservists' training is a lot different this year
March 26, 2003
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Annual training for Navy reservists can be as action-packed as a briefing with a mumbling monotone speaker.
Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Sanchez knows that all to well. He has been a Navy reservist for the last 18 years.
But training this year is different than in years past.
Instead of spending his annual two weeks of training at his hometown Reserve center in Miami, where he usually “sat around reading books,” he is in southern Spain working extra hours, side-by-side with active-duty sailors.
He chose to come to Rota partly because he knew it would be an opportunity to work in a busy port doing the work of a boatswain’s mate.
“Even though I live in Miami and we’re surrounded by water there, you don’t have that unless you go to Jacksonville or Key West,” he said earlier this month. “We’ve done a lot here. ... More than we’ve done in our Reserve center, where we basically sit around and read books and stuff like that. So, it is an experience.”
About 1,000 reservists come to the naval station each year to fulfill their two-week annual training, also known simply as “AT.” As military bases take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom, there are more opportunities for reservists who aren’t deployed to go to overseas bases like Rota to do their training.
Sanchez, 39, of Hollywood, Fla., is one of 14 reservists who is at the naval station for training but is actually working a lot of hours.
Reservists typically spend an average of 17 days at a base overseas, but a new policy allows them to stay as long as 29 days if they choose.
Sanchez, who has four years of active-duty experience, said he heard Rota needed people to help keep up with the pace of operations, so he decided to check into it. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the base has supported a steady flow of cargo ships and planes.
“You feel good about yourself when you’re actually doing something for the military, and you’re working hard to work for your country,” said Sanchez, who is married and has two children, ages 7 and 4.
Annual training in the Reserves sometimes can be extremely boring. The joke is that “military reservist training” is an oxymoron, much like “military intelligence,” “rap music” and “common sense.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Quinones, a 36-year-old corrections officer from New York City, said he signed up to come to Rota for one reason: the chance to work with boats and ships.
And he got exactly that. Some days he worked 14 hours because the port is so busy.
But he’s not complaining.
“The word is they needed help out there,” he said. “Personally, I need the training, the experience.”
Cmdr. Warren Taninbaum, the base’s Reserve coordinator and a reservist himself, said a lot of reservists want to come to Rota because Spain is a beautiful country and because they know they will get some actual training.
“You could be doing things like class training or some sort of [U.S.-based] work, which isn’t nearly as exciting and interesting,” he said.
“Here, you’ve got a port and air operations and you know you’ve got a lot going on, and they like that.”
Most commands on base welcome the extra help reservists bring even if it is for only a couple of weeks.
Reservists, who can be full-time police officers, businessmen or lawyers, also sometimes bring a wealth of knowledge from their civilian jobs.
Quinones said the benefits are mutual because it is important for reservists to get out of their Reserve centers and receive hands-on training.
“[The training center] is not the same as actually going out and doing it,” he said.