Naval Support Activity Bahrain
Naval Base in Manama, Bahrain. It is situated in the Kingdom of Bahrain and is home to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. 5th Fleet. NSA Bahrain provides Operational Support to U.S. and Coalition Forces operating throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility, ensuring security to ships, aircraft, detachments, and remote sites. We operate and maintain superior facilities and services for tenant commands, their deployed assets, service members, DoD civilians and dependents.
Our family was stationed there from May 2012 to September 2014. I must say, even as an Asian, it was interesting. Since there is no housing on base, everyone needs to live "off-base". I recommend working closely with the housing office to ensure that the agent or renter you are dealing with is vouched by the base. Be prepared to be shown photos of a villa or a tower unit and then seeing a different one when you actually go see it in person. It is common practice (at least when we were there). There are also certain areas that are off-limits for living or even visiting. The housing office or even your command can provide you guidance. As a tip though, if you LOVE the waters, try to check out Amwaj Island.
Bahrain has a DoD school called Bahrain International School. Due to homeschooling during that time, I could not provide an accurate assessment of how the school is. Although I've heard both great things and not-so-great things about it. Academic wise, it has a top-notch program. Some royalties and elite Middle Easterners send their kids to BIS. While we were there, we had a homeschool group. I am not sure though whether it is still active or not.
As for medical care, the clinic is an annex of Sigonella, Italy. It is small and so, lower your expectations. You mostly need referrals to get seen off-base. There are two hospitals that ex-patriots and folks from the base are usually referred to -- Bahrain Specialist Hospital and Royal Bahrain Hospital. There is a great possibility that more hospitals are now affiliated to the base like the King Hamad Hospital. Please keep an open mind as to the cultural and "economical" differences between the U.S. and the Middle East. Dental care for family members is also referred to off-base.
Although Bahrain's base is not as huge as other bases and may also appear less family-friendly, it actually offers a lot of family-friendly services and events. If you are still cautious venturing out off-base, P911 food court has several fast-food joints. There is also a huge NEX for your shopping needs. At the time we lived there, there was no Commissary. However, there was a plan to build one.
Not sure what the status is now as there was a proposal to move the Youth Center and SAC to a bigger facility. But during our time there, spaces are limited. Most people with small children opted to hire nannies as they come out cheaper than sending kids to child care on base. You have the option to do part-time or full-time/stay-in nannies. Not only will they take care of the kids, but they also do the cooking, laundry, and house cleaning. Even grocery shopping can be tasked to them.
MWR and USO always have great family-friendly events --- from youth sports to fun runs, to holiday celebrations, and even regular visits by sports, movie, and tv celebrities. Almost every month that we were there, events are going on. If your family is into VBS (Vacation Bible School), it is an annual activity sponsored by the base chapel.
I think the most exciting part of living in Bahrain is its culture and tradition. We still miss the call to prayers 5-6 times a day. We lived close to a mosque. Although we are not required to wear the hijab (head covering) and the abaya, we are highly encouraged to dress modestly as to respect the local customs. Contrary to popular beliefs, Middle East (Bahrain included) is not all sun, sand, and dust. There are beautiful shopping malls in different areas, beach resorts, and tourist sites that take you back in time; hundreds, others thousands of years in the past. The Manama Souq is a famous destination for locally handcrafted products. As for dining, if you are adventurous and wish to explore their cuisine, there are several options around -- Indian, Turkish, Arabian, etc.... Like anywhere in the world, please exercise situational awareness at all times.
Bahrain is also a gateway to Dubai, Oman, and other exciting places to visit in the Middle East. Dubai is the most common destination for vacations. Not only that, but Bahrain is also a gateway to European and even Asian getaways.
The thing to watch out for is when it gets hot, it gets REALLY HOT, and when it is cold, it gets REALLY COLD as well. I think the latter has more to do with your body getting acclimated to the hot climate. The best times of the year for me was September to November, and then March to the first part of May. Temperatures are nice. Be prepared for occasional rain and flooding. During the cooler temperatures, expect protests and tire burning to increase. The command sends out alerts to which areas to avoid and which areas are completely off-limits.