U. S. Naval Security Group, Galeta Island

("Galeta Point")

Galeta Island with Ops building- 1953
(thanks to Bob L.)
 
Naval Security Group Activity, Galeta Island, on the road past Ft. Randolph, was a Naval communications and intelligence facility staffed by the military located in or near Coco Solo.  Most of the personnel stationed there were Communication Technicians, although there were other personnel in different fields stationed there whose talents were also needed.  My late father was one of these - he was a Chief Engineman and was responsible for the machinery.  Of course, he took his turn as an Officer of the Day and on occasion I would ride in the car with him while he went to check on things.  Naturally I was not allowed to remove myself from the car once we got into the far secured area where the communications building was located so I imagined the building as being a mysterious place.  It had windows but all the windows were covered with some kind of metal, possibly aluminum, jalousies, making it impossible to see inside.  I never would see anyone outside of the building in the immediate area so this added to its mystery. At the entrance to Galeta, there was a small building with a couple of small engines and restrooms located in a spacious grassy area.  Across from it was a large bohio where many picnics and cookouts were held by Galeta Island families and their friends.  There was a nearby spot that was used for swimming since it was enclosed by a reef.  Someone had built a pontoon which was anchored a little ways offshore. When I got older, I would take a book and swim out to the pontoon to read in quiet solitude and to perhaps snooze.  The combination of sun, breezes, the quiet, and the smell of salt water was almost hypnotic.  Several times I woke up surprised that I had drifted off to sleep.  After my father purchased a horse for my sister and I, I frequently rode it out to Galeta Island.  Several years before that horse, while attending Cristobal High School in Coco Solo, I had "inherited" a native pony which because of it's size, I would ride bareback instead of  using a saddle.  I enjoyed riding out there to explore around Galeta but since the site was still being used, I knew better than to ride to the communications building.

The original Galeta Island, referred to occasionally as the "Point" because it was located at the farthest part of the "island", was where my father was stationed in 1960 for several years but in the mid-60's, the Galeta Island facilities were moved to a new location which was not as far up the road as the old facility.  The original Galeta Island is presently being used by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and has been for a number of years now a place where scientists and students conduct valuable research.  I am still searching for home photographs of this original location but so far, all I have found are picnic shots taken under the large bohio that was very popular.  Besides providing cover from the elements, it had a charcoal grill and several picnic tables.  It was also close to the restrooms and the small swimming area.

The photos below, taken in March 2003, are of the second Galeta Island and can be distinguished from the original by the large antenna arrays.  I don't specifically remember any arrays at the original site but I do remember quite a few antenna structures either on or around the communications building.

 
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Photos copyrighted ©NBK

 
 

 

May 2004 Photos

 
Nina has generously supplied me with recent photos of the both Galeta Islands that she took in May 2004 while on a sightseeing exploration on the Atlantic Side of the isthmus.  She has also shared some of her thoughts on the photos:

"These pictures were taken on 30 May 2004 -- a gloriously beautiful day in rainy season.  Because it rains more -- and harder -- on the Atlantic than on the Pacific side of the Isthmus, we were very fortunate.  But, even so, you'll see little bits of darkness in the clouds where the rain was 'thinking about it'.

We had headed out to the very end where the Smithsonian has a small laboratory & a bunch of meters in the water measuring everything.  One of the employees had left the barrier open & we didn't know it was supposed to be closed.  The head guy told us that as long as we were there, we could look around, but no pictures.  Seems the area is open to the public during the week, but permission is needed for weekends & this was a Sunday.  On the way back, however, & out of sight of the Smithsonian buildings, I took these of the beautiful Caribbean (Nos. A and B).  Glorious just to stand & look at it. 

I don't remember if the sign (No. 21) was there last time, but since the top line looks a wee bit worn, it probably was.  It says "Protected Site" in Spanish.  This sign is past the Navy Galeta sign.  As we headed to the Smithsonian portion of Galeta that is at road's end, these signs (Nos. 01 and 02)  indicate the old US Navy communication site.  Directly across the road is the new sign (No. 03) which reflects the new ownership of the communication site.  It will be turned into Smithsonian laboratories (as an expansion of their original facilities).  For historical reasons, I hope the Smithsonian folks leave the old Navy signs up.

I'm not sure what the sign means by operations, but the security guard said it would be laboratory work.  The site at "The Point" will remain -- they have too many years invested in studying the wave action & reef life out there to give all that up.  There's a bunch of measuring equipment stuck in the reefs for checking things out.  They're also studying the mangrove swamps & the wildlife therein, so when they go from the radio site area on out to the end of the road, they will have their own little world of natural biology of all kinds."
 

 

01

02

03

A

B
 

04

05

06

07

08
 

09

10

11

12

13
 

14

15

16

17

18
 

19

20

21
 
LEGEND (NBK's explanations below in her words):

01 - 02 - 03 are explained in the above text.

04 - The road in from the main road.  It doesn't show well but the antenna circles were faintly visible in the distance.

05 - On both sides of this road, indeed on both sides of ALL roads, is swamp & more swamp.  Galeta & Margarita were, after all, islands as was Colon which was created by the heroic railroad effort in the 1850s. 

06 - As we approached the antenna circles surrounding the buildings, this area was off to the right.  It had what appeared to be security lights so we guessed that it was for car parking.

07 - But this was clearly marked.

08 - Then there was the "NO" sign --- what wasn't allowed into the area.  Interesting to note, in view of today's headlines, that no cameras or tape recorders were allowed.

09 - Behind a real fence was an antenna field in a circular shape with buildings in the middle.

10 - And the gate.  There was a security guard --- had to stay there 10 hours per shift with only water to drink.  He was delighted to have company. 

11 - 12 - 13 are more of the antenna array.

14 - An open door!  Subsequent peeks at other rooms at lower levels showed nothing but empty space, so that would probably have held true here, too.  But the height would have given great pictures of the relationship of  the Caribbean to the site, how much beach available, etc. ' Twas not to be.

15 - The steps were protected by this interesting thorn bush.  The thorns were shaped like a bulb, very fat on the bottom.  I was told later that ants live in there.  When I reached for the limb to gently move it away so I could pass up to the open door, I observed that lumpy thing up near the top.  Slowly replacing the branch & slowly retreating down the single step, I got away before the swarming wasps decided I was worth their time. 

16 - These electrical meter boxes were stripped of everything long ago.

17 - 18 - More rooms....no doubt offices, storerooms & other administrative activities.

19 - Loading area

20 - Antenna maintenance shop, now used by the guard to sit for his 10 hour shift.  Geez!

21 - Explained in above text.
 

SITE MAP
MORE

BONUS! J.Glockner's Galeta Island website:
http://www.anzwers.org/free/navyscpo/galetaisland_intro.html
 

UPDATED 05/25/2005

Many thanks to NBK for supplying the photos on this page and others.
She is a wealth of information.

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