Souda Bay’s efforts in war on terror earn Navy honor
After Sept. 11, 2001, things got very busy at Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Crete.
“My first three months here, I got to go nowhere except work,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Otto, who transferred to Souda Bay’s port security unit in September 2001. “We were averaging 18- to 20-hour days, seven days a week.”
The small Navy detachment of about 700 military and civilians provided security and support for military ships and aircraft heading to, or operating in, the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia.
The Navy recently recognized the command’s work by awarding it the secretary of the Navy’s Meritorious Unit Commendation for Sept. 11, 2001, to Sept. 30, 2002. This award is given to a Navy or Marine Corps unit that distinguishes itself among units performing similar missions. The unit gets a citation and sailors who were with the unit during that time get a ribbon for their uniforms.
According to the commendation, Souda Bay was recognized for providing security for, and supporting, both air and ship operations. During that time, Navy and Air Force reconnaissance squadrons, five Air Force refueling squadrons, and hundreds of transiting ships were based there.
About 750 Afghanistan-bound flights were refueled by Souda Bay-based aircraft and more than 200 tons of ammunition were moved by ships stopping at the port.
Base executive assistant Bruce Gale, who has worked on base since August 1991, said that Sept. 11 hit everyone hard, but the command had already ramped up both security and operations.
“After the Cole incident, we saw the writing on the wall,” he said of the October 2000 terrorist attack on the guided-missile cruiser USS Cole in Yemen. “When 2001 came, we were already there. After 9/11, we went into super-speed.”
Otto said that his port security detachment went from about 50 people to 300 and is now down to about 200. Reservists augmented the active-duty staff, many of whom had previous experience at Souda.
“Some of our security forces had come here for three or four years, two weeks at a time,” Gale said. After Sept. 11, he said, “all they did was come to the base, walk to their lockers, change clothes and go to work.”