Cuban-American friendship spans many years

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Photo by PH1(SW) Terry Matlock
Cuban-American Friendship — Marines from Marine Corps Security Force Company Guantanamo lead the first leg of the 10-mile Cuban-American Friendship Day Northeast Gate Run on Jan. 27. The run began at the Northeast Gate, and units or teams ran in formation or individually in 2-mile legs or for the entire distance. Other Cuban-American Friendship Day activities are pictured on page 8.

Cuban-American friendship spans many years[edit]

By Stacey Byington, NAVSTA Public Affairs Officer

This year’s annual Cuban-American Friendship Day, held Jan. 27, began much the same as previous years. CAPT Mark Leary, USN, the station commanding officer, met and greeted the three remaining Cuban commuters as they crossed through the Northeast Gate, and presented them with tickets to the day’s activities.

The Northeast Gate Run began at 8 a.m., from the Northeast Gate, and ended up at the Windjammer Club. Teams, units and individuals had the opportunity to run the entire 10 miles, or run legs of approximately two miles each.

The official program began at the Windjammer Club at noon.

CAPT Leary welcomed everyone to the 37th annual Cuban-American Friendship Day activities. He spoke briefly of the origins of the event, and talked about the Cuban-American history relating to the base.

Cuban American Friendship Day Celebration Awards.png

“The core of this exceptional base and the driving force in many of our successes has been, and continues to be, this special Cuban community,” said Leary. “They are our corporate memory, our Naval Station elders, and our true host nation support.

“This simple day of celebration is a token of the respect and gratitude we show, and owe, to this critical element of our GTMO team.”

The day’s guest speaker was HM3 Virgilio Fraqui, currently assigned to the U.S. Naval Hospital where he serves in the Patient Administration Department.

Fraqui was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1973. Despite knowing the hazards of the sea and the possible consequences if he was captured by the Cuban authorities, he left his native homeland on a raft in July 1994. Three days later he arrived at Guantanamo Bay.

He spent approximately a year here as a migrant, learned English, and helped around the base where he could. He resettled in Miami in July 1995. After graduating from the National School of Technology in Miami as a surgical technician, Fraqui joined the U.S. Navy on Feb. 28, 2001. He attended recruit training, and then Hospital Corpsman “A” school at the Medical Corps School Training Command at Great Lakes, Ill.

His first duty station in the Navy after completing his training was Naval Hospital, Beaufort, S.C., where he served for three years working as an anesthesia technician. He has been assigned to the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo Bay since 2004.

Cuban-American Friendship Day is also a day to honor the service of the Special Category Residents who sought refuge on the base from the Marxist government of Fidel Castro. Many of these residents have worked for the base for a half-century or more. They are listed to the right.

Since the very first Cuban-American Friendship Day 37 years ago, the Special Category Residents and Cuban commuters get together every year and vote on who receives the ‘Cuban-American Friendship Award.’ They vote for the person they most believe contributed the most to the local Cuban community.

This year’s award went to former base commander (March 2003 - July 2005), CAPT Leslie McCoy.

Celebrating Cuban-American friendship[edit]

Photo by PH1(SW) Terry Matlock
CAPT Mark Leary chats with the three remaining Cuban commuters — Mr. Harry Henry, 54 years of service; Mr. Luis LaRosa, 46 years; and Mr. Ricardo Simono, 44 years of service — after greeting them at the Northeast Gate on Cuban-American Friendship Day.
Photo by PH1(SW) Terry Matlock
HM3 Virgilio Franqui, the guest speaker, currently stationed at the U.S. Naval Hospital, left Cuba on a raft in 1994 and spent a year here as a migrant waiting for resettlement.
Photo by PH1(SW) Terry Matlock
Cuban special category residents were honored guests at the day’s activities.
Photo by PH1(SW) Terry Matlock
CAPT Mark Leary presents Mr. Harry Henry with a walking stick recognizing him as the most senior Cuban commuter with 54 years of government service.
Cuban American Friendship Day Celebration.png
Photo by Stacey Byington
Students provided musical and dance entertainment.