Taking care of veterans overseas Jessamine County native earns five-star rating at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station

Published 4:45 pm Thursday, May 24, 2018


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Tara Culbertson is a Jessamine County native who grew up participating in parks and recreation and now serves as the director for Morale, Welfare and Recreation at a Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was recently submitted as a finalist for the Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.

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Taking care of veterans overseas

Jessamine County native earns five-star rating at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station

By Brittany Fuller


Jessamine County native, Tara Culbertson, is stationed overseas in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where she works as the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Director for Guantanamo Bay’s Naval Station which was recently nominated as a finalist for the 2018 National Gold Medal Awards for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.

The program delivers over 4,800 events annually for a local population of 5,500 residents. A finalist in the Armed Forces Recreation category, MWR GTMO recently achieved a 5-star accreditation rating and surpassed the rest of the Navy in customer feedback.

“I received my bachelors in recreation from Indiana University,” Culbertson said. “While I was there I did an internship with the Navy and that is what turned me on to this line of work. I applied for a job in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the same South East region (of Guantanamo Bay). I came down here about three times so I knew what I was getting into.”

Growing up in Nicholasville, Culbertson said her dad served as principal for Nicholasville Elementary School. Nicholasville, Culbertson said, is home and when people ask her where she is from she points to her name tag which reads Nicholasville, Kentucky.

“I was always doing recreation in elementary and middle school,” Culbertson said. “I lived in Nicholasville and had a great mentor in 4-H. I took a class in recreation and leisure and thought it would be fun and easy. I realized I really liked it. People ask me all the time, ‘what do you do for work, play?’ and I say, ‘no, it is management like a bank or business. Except my business is fun.’”

Culbertson is in charge of events which include a little bit of everything for the local community. Recently holding a glow run, Culbertson said events also feature entertainment from off-island, celebrity chefs, bands and comedians.

On Guantanamo Bay, Culbertson said there are no resources outside the gate and the island is in one of the toughest supply chains making it very isolated and remote.

“We plan ahead,” Culbertson said. “We estimate on the best day when we order it takes about six weeks for a shipment to arrive for an event or program. Everything that we consume is brought in. We make electricity and fresh water and everything we buy is brought in by barge every two weeks.”

Culbertson said with planning ahead being a necessity, it is impossible for the community to plan to have an event only one week in advance. For example, if something in the 24-hour fitness center breaks on a treadmill, the staff either has to have the part on hand or order one and wait until it arrives at least six weeks out before it can be fixed. In fact, fast internet is only a recent development on the island, Culbertson said.

“We (try hard) to take care of everyone’s leisure needs. Everyone is separated from their families. We offer hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. Sometimes people are not very excited about coming here, but we try and make the best of their time (once they get) here.”