On a windy and cool February afternoon, I joined a small crowd of people, including U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Admiral Bruce Klingan, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, to watch the USS DONALD COOK carefully come to dock at Pier One of the Rota Naval Station in Andalusia, Spain.
This simple act of a ship coming to port is an event worth commemorating for many reasons. The DONALD COOK is the first of four Arleigh Burke -- class guided -- missile destroyers to be stationed at Rota in support of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), the U.S. contribution to NATO missile defense. As we watched this U.S. Navy vessel tying its line to a Spanish pier, I was reminded of my participation last month at a White House meeting between President Obama and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. During this bilateral discussion, President Obama remarked that security cooperation between the United States and Spain has never been stronger. The arrival of the DONALD COOK is a concrete expression of that proud truth.
As we watched a joint Spanish-U.S. color guard post our respective flags at the start of a formal welcome ceremony for the DONALD COOK, it symbolized more than sixty years of the defense partnership anchoring our important alliance. With the arrival of the Donald Cook, our partnership reached a new level, as the stationing of the Cook and its sister ships represents a joint contribution to NATO's missile defense architecture. Together, the United States and Spain support the commitment made by NATO Allies to provide protection to NATO European populations against the threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.
Yet, this is only one of many missions that Spain and the United States are tackling in tandem. We have fought together in Afghanistan, and remain committed to consolidating our gains there. U.S. and Spanish ships patrol together off the Horn of Africa, battling the age old scourge of piracy. Spain is temporarily hosting a U.S. Marine Corps crisis response team at a Spanish air base in Moron - a vital contribution to the safety and operations of our diplomatic missions in Africa and advancing our shared priority of bringing stability and development to a volatile region. And U.S. and Spanish aircrews are working together, also out of Moron, to enable the French-led UN mission in Mali.
Underlying the undeniable political and strategic importance of this partnership are the equally important people-to-people connections that our long history of sharing military bases enables. Because they stand on the same soil, day in and day out, our sailors and airmen, soldiers and marines, train together and learn together, in ways that strengthen both of our militaries. We become more capable together, increasing our interoperability in NATO, adding strength to the framework of transatlantic security.
As the day's formalities ended, and the crew of the DONALD COOK completed their arrival chores, I noticed a small group of family members waiting patiently on the pier, oblivious to the chilly wind. Like so many military families, some of the most difficult sacrifices and important contributions come from "dependents" (to use the military term for families). When the DONALD COOK and her sister ships depart Rota for their missions, their families remain, carrying on daily life, and making their own positive contributions to the community. The sight of these family members waiting to spend some time with their sailors is yet another reminder that international affairs are fundamentally powered by people.
Whether Spanish or American, people are certainly at the heart of the U.S.-Spain relationship. Generations of U.S. military personnel and their families have finished their tours in Spain with a deep appreciation for the country and its people. I think that likewise, generations of Spaniards have learned about the United States through friendships with U.S. service members and their families. Those relationships last a lifetime, and bind together our militaries and our people -- Europe and the United States -- to the great benefit of all.
About the Author: James Costos serves as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain and Principality of Andorra.