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Home > Military Memories > Naval Communications Station, Sidi Yahia, Morocco

Naval Communications Station, Sidi Yahia, Morocco

In October 1974, we arrived at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca bound for NCS Sidi Yahia, a small, isolated Cold War-era outpost located about twelve miles inland from Naval Air Station Kenitra (Port Lyautey) in western Morocco. The base, which opened in the mid-1950’s, was located just east of the village of Sidi Yahia el Gharb on Highway N4. To ease the tension with Russian and other Muslim countries Sidi Yahia (and the other American bases) was actually dubbed a Moroccan training center and its American military occupants were “instructors.” To add to the legitimacy American flags were not flown outdoors except on special occasions. In the past the country had also played host to several U.S. Air Force SAC installations including Sidi Slimane, El Nouasser, and Ben Guerir.

NCS Sidi Yahia had a small main area with housing surrounded by a massive antenna field. The U.S. Navy utilized the small base, as a receiving station in conjunction with a transmitting station at nearby NCS Bouknadel, to maintain secure communications with the assets of the U.S. Sixth Fleet. I’m sure these bases were also utilized to keep tabs on Russian naval traffic entering and exiting the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar. The sprawling bases totaled 4,800 acres of land. The country had also played host to several former U.S. Air Force SAC installations including Sidi Slimane, El Nouasser, and Ben Guerir.

Outside of NCS Sidi Yahia sat a local pulp (paper) factory, which my dad said was used as a front for a Russian surveillance operation that kept tabs on the nearby American presence. This facility, which went into operation in 1957, is still visible (with its stacks of lumber) on satellite maps if you look directly north of the base.

I attended the second grade on base in a small schoolhouse divided into four rooms and known as Sanford G. Hooper Primary School. I believe the older kids were bused to nearby NAS Kenitra for classes at other schools including Thomas Mack Wilhoite High School.

Like pretty much every family we had a Fatima or maid who helped out around the house. The fatimas, who were screened to work on the base, were dropped off by a bus at the front gate of the base every morning. Most of them served as in-house maids but others worked at the exchange, bowling alley, or movie theater. Our first Fatima was a rather large woman who did not speak much English. My mom believed she may have stolen money from the house so before long we had a second fatima. Her name was “Asha,” she was twenty-nine years old, spoke fluid English, and was quite pretty. My mom really liked her. Asha was married at age twelve and had nine kids - the first one at age thirteen! She was paid $2 a day as was the norm and did general cleaning and cooking around the house. My mom would give her food and clothes at times, but would have to write a note for her so she could take the items off base.

Other things I remember from Sidi Yahia include the German Shepherds and their U.S. Marine handlers that guarded our base, watching my parents play tennis, listening to Suzi Quatro songs at the Fourth of July base picnic, learning the French phrase tout de suite, going to the on-base movie theater, going without TV for six months, collecting American comic books, the terrifying haunted house on the parade grounds during Halloween, an unusual weekend fishing outing to a secluded lake in the Atlas Mountains, eating French Brochettes (which my family still loves today!), and roaming around our small base with my friends.

When we first arrived the American military presence in Morocco was already being phased out due to advances in satellite communications. I think the alliance with the Moroccan king and his ministers was weakening as well. We departed even earlier than expected and were only in Morocco for six months. NCS Sidi Yahia was vacated by the end of 1977 and is currently under strict control of the Moroccan Royal Air Force.

The coastal city of Rabat, meaning "fortified place," is the capital of Morocco and home to the U.S. Embassy. Anyone stationed at NCS Sidi Yahia would have visited here for sure. Rabat is full of bazaars for your shopping pleasure and my mom says this is her favorite city in the whole world.

An old postcard showing the terrain of the nearby Atlas Mountains. I remember going on a three-day fishing trip (to a mountain top lake) with my dad and his friend and along the way this is all we saw. It was super hot during the day driving and I was so sick. Stop the car again dad!! Uugggh! But once at the lake It was so cold at night!

The road and familiar landscape leading from Kenitra out towards NCS Sidi Yahia.

The main gate at NCS Sidi Yahia.

Inside NCS Sidi Yahia looking back towards the main gate - visible in distance. (photo credit: R. Buringa)

Bird's eye view of part of NCS Sidi Yahia. The distinctive Terminal Building is visible on right side of photo and some of the enlisted housing units (we lived just off photo to the right) visible towards top right. (photo credit: L. Taylor)

The building housing the main communications command at NCS Sidi Yahia - known as the Terminal Building.

View of the movie theater. I remember watching a lot of matinees here on the weekends. I think I saw Old Yeller (and/or a similar dog movie) here for the first time. I cried like a little girl and was scarred for life. Never watched that movie again!

I spent a lot of time at these courts, located next to the Terminal Building, watching my parents play tennis.

The sign in front of the Marine Barracks on NCS Sidi Yahia.