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Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Szarek, left, Constructionman Robert Farrell, middle, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Joe Soriano, all Navy Seabees with Naval Station Rota Spain's Public Works Department, help put up the frame of a booth for the Naval Station Rota's 50th Anniversary celebration.

Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Szarek, left, Constructionman Robert Farrell, middle, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Joe Soriano, all Navy Seabees with Naval Station Rota Spain's Public Works Department, help put up the frame of a booth for the Naval Station Rota's 50th Anniversary celebration. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — The U.S. and Spanish military on Thursday will celebrate the 50th anniversary of a historic defense treaty that paved the way for basing American troops in Spain.

The Navy base will mark the occasion with a military ceremony Thursday and a block party-like fiesta for families Friday.

The pact between the countries led to the creation of this jointly used Navy base, home to about 3,000 active-duty U.S. servicemembers.

“It will be a good time to honor our commitment over the past 50 years,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Eric Oettl, the naval station’s assistant supply officer and chairman of the anniversary celebration committee.

The United States has been Spain’s closest military partner since the Pact of Madrid was signed on Sept. 26, 1953.

President Eisenhower formed a commission in 1951 to strengthen the ties between the two countries, and the agreement two years later was the result of a series of negotiations.

It wasn’t until April 1, 1955, that the United States and Spain began planning for the naval station. The base, built by about 2,000 people, officially opened on April 14, 1958.

Today, the 6,100-acre Navy installation is home to 27 tenant commands, including Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Two, Marine Corps Security Force Company Europe, the Air Force’s 725th Air Mobility Squadron and Naval Special Warfare Unit Ten. Morón Air Base, southeast of Seville, is host to about 100 American active-duty personnel.

The bases are key hubs for U.S. military cargo planes flying between the continental United States and Europe.

On Thursday, Adm. Jose Antonio Balbas Otal, admiral of the Spanish fleet, and Adm. Gregory Johnson, commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe, will be the key speakers at an 11 a.m. ceremony at the Gateway Galley Parade Field.

The admirals will help dedicate a tetrapod with a plaque commemorating the signing of the first U.S.-Spanish agreement. The tetrapod, a four-pronged piece of concrete used to build breakwaters, is part the naval station’s symbol. About 10,000 of the tetrapods were used to construct the large artificial harbor entrance to the base’s port.

Shots from a cannon followed by a flyover by a U.S. Navy P-3 and two Spanish Harrier jump jets will conclude the ceremony.

On Friday, fiesta festivities begin at 6 p.m. at Port Park. Booths will offer Spanish and American food. Spanish restaurants will offer local cuisine, while base private organizations will sell American food.

A stage currently under construction will host Spanish and American music acts. The rock band Collective Soul will headline the event.

“We’re excited,” Oettl said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate something like this.”

The base has invited the naval station’s more than 1,200 Spanish civilian employees to thank them for their dedication. However, union leaders have asked workers to boycott the event. Spanish base employees have been demanding a boost in their take-home pay since a change in tax laws more than three years ago.

They plan to protest outside the base’s main gate on Thursday and Friday.

Want to go?

Thursday: 11 a.m., ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Spanish pact, which led to the basing of American troops in Spain.

Friday: 6 p.m., festival celebrating the anniversary. Rock band Collective Soul will headline the entertainment.


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