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A visit to Guantanamo Bay

3/11/2009

George Poveromo, who resides in Parkland, Fla., is a nationally-recognized sportfishing authority who serves as Editor-At Large for Salt Water Sportsman magazine, and the producer and host of his own television series on ESPN2: George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing.

He recently returned from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he fished with some of our Sailors and Troopers who are serving there in the U.S. Joint Task Force. The troops consisted of members of the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army and National Guard.

"I received a phone call about four months ago from a gentleman named Todd Jordon, who works with the Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division at Guantanamo," says Poveromo. "He explained that many of our service men and women stationed at GTMO fish as a recreation. He said they have a small marina where the sailors and troopers rent boats to go fish in the Bay. Todd asked if I would be interested in flying down on a Navy plane and conducting a couple seminars to help them improve their fishing. I was so honored by his request, that I told him I'd like to take this one step further and shoot one of my ESPN2 episodes down there. He said that would be one of the biggest morale boosters at this base, and to let's make it happen."

Poveromo trailered his 28-foot, twin-powered Mako sportfishing boat from its home at Garnett Storage in Coral Springs, Fla., to the U.S. Navy Base in Jacksonville, Florida. From there, the boat and trailer were put on a freighter and shipped down to Guantanamo Bay. Poveromo then supplied the names, addresses and Social
Security numbers of the three individuals in his production team, along with his information. The Navy would use this information to research and grant security clearance for the team.

Joining Poveromo were cameramen Kevin Tierney of Ramrod Key, Rob Greene of Coral Springs and James Hanrahan of Parkland, who, in addition to being a friend and neighbor of Poveromo, is a Captain with the Coral Springs Police Department.

"Heading down was a real treat," says Poveromo. "A C-12 Huron twin turboprop Navy plane picked us up at Ft. Lauderdale and flew us down to GTMO. It took nearly three hours to get there, given that we couldn't cut through Cuban air space and had to instead go around the east side of the Island. It was like a 400 mile trip. But what a beautiful landscape, with huge mountains and royal blue waters, once we approached the air strip."

At 7:00 a.m. each morning, three different Sailors/Troopers would meet Poveromo at his boat. They would fish until 11:30 a.m. and head back to the marina for lunch. After lunch, Poveromo and team were transported back to their accommodations, where they'd shower and prepare for meet-and-greets and tours of the Base. The tours, incidentally, included an evening cocktail party with the Commanding Officer of Guantanamo Bay, visits to the radio station and Camp America Liberty Center, NE Gate, and even the detainee camps.

"They kept us hopping, that's for sure," says Poveromo. "Given the trip was in October, we even took part in the big Oktoberfest celebration on base. Imagine that — celebrating Oktoberfest in Cuba!

"The base itself covers some 45 square miles, which was much larger than I would have ever imagined. There are 18 fast food restaurants here, and Cuba's only McDonalds! They've a Starbucks, Breyer's Ice Cream, and O'Kelly's Irish Pub! It's a mini city."

Those selected to fish with Poveromo were mainly newer recruits, Sailors/Troopers stationed at GTMO between six months and three years. "What first got my attention was that they seemed so young," says Poveromo. "The average age was around 24, but they held some rather impressive positions. One girl in particular really stood out to me. On the boat, and in civilian clothes, she seemed like she could have easily passed for a teenager. She reminded me a lot of my oldest daughter. When I asked what she did, she explained that she worked with the Navy's canine division to detect bombs and explosive materials in cargo, ships, planes and suitcases. At the end of the trip, when most of the Sailors/Troopers I fished with arrived for a group photo, here comes this girl, getting out of an SUV, in full Navy uniform — complete with a gun strapped to her hip! At that point she looked 20 years older! There's something about a U.S. military uniform and firepower that really lends a mature, business-like look!

"Fishing with these recruits was totally thrilling for me. Some were avid anglers, and some went fishing for their very first time. To see their faces and the excitement come over them when we left the dock was priceless. And once they began catching fish, they were in another world. It felt so good to give them a fun, relaxing day on the water."

As for the fishing, Poveromo mainly anchored up on the offshore reefs, where he chummed up some of the largest yellowtail snapper he has ever seen. Some of the yellowtails weighed as heavy as six pounds. They also scored mutton snapper and several grouper. On the final morning, Poveromo fished inshore and at the mouth of the Guantanamo River, where they battled snook as heavy as 15-pounds.

"Security here is extremely tight," claims Poveromo. "At all times on the water, we had a 26-foot Navy escort boat assigned to stay within 50 feet of us. We had to get clearance each morning before we left the dock to enter the Bay system, and once again when we ventured offshore, which they refer to as 'Out of Bounds.'

"Ironically, our boundaries offshore were very tight. The U.S. waters extend just three miles to the east and three miles to the west of the inlet, and 15 miles offshore. The water drops to well over 5,000 feet deep just a couple miles offshore. The reefs here are very fertile and thriving with fish. There is virtually no fishing pressure, and the Guantanamo River is loaded with big snook. What an angler's paradise.

"Given all the places in this world I've had the good fortune to fish at through Salt Water Sportsman magazine and my ESPN2 television series, this was among the most meaningful trip of them all. To have received that phone call from the Navy and the honor of going down there and showing our service men and women a fun time, that was truly a feel good thing and career high. Those who I took fishing and those who I had met and spent some time with at the Base are all decent, well-mannered, dedicated professionals. Without a doubt, they are among our very finest. I'm proud of their service and extremely thankful for the freedom and security they continue to provide for us here in the states. This trip was my way of saying thank you to all of them."

For more on "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing," visit www.georgepoveromo.com.