Reflections from Turkey

Col. Karl McGregor

Col. Karl McGregor

1/21/2011 -- Three weeks ago, I was in Turkey. Just after Christmas, I flew one of our C-17s to Incirlik Air Base to visit the Team March Airmen who deployed there in October. On the aircraft were the majority of the deployers who were rotating into Turkey for the next two months.
Although Turkey is about 7,000 miles from California, its approximate latitude and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea make its landscape surprisingly similar to the landscape here. The winter temperatures are mild and palm trees and cacti grow there. The largest difference is the deep history of this land at the crossroads of east and west. From references in the Bible and Koran, it's clear that early Christians and Muslims wandered these lands.
Most of the March Airmen who are deployed to Turkey are from the 336th Air Refueling Squadron. Joining them to form the 90th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron are Airmen from the 452nd Operations Support Squadron, 452nd Force Support Squadron, 452nd Operations Group and 752nd Maintenance Squadron.
Observing our deployed Airmen, I was impressed by their hard work and positive attitudes, despite being deployed over the holidays. As of the beginning of January, the squadron has flown more than 100 sorties and boasts a 100% mission execution rate with zero in-flight mishaps.
While I was there, I enjoyed a full tour of the maintenance facilities and visited with our maintainers. What a great job they're doing in theater, providing flawless aircraft for the combat support sorties. On New Year's Eve, I had the chance to use my 13-day-old qualification from the Senior Officer's KC-135 Course I attended in December. I flew one of the squadron's air refueling missions over the Black Sea, providing JP8 to a C-17 on its way into the AOR. The crew members who kept me out of trouble were truly professional, efficient and tireless.
Upon our return to the base, the flight crew joined a New Year's "rave" in progress at the base club. The crowd was a mix of base personnel and our own 452nd Airmen. The camaraderie of our deployers was proof that this group of people who came from different squadrons and only crossed paths occasionally as traditional reservists had been able to bond as a team, not only in work, but also in support of one another as wingmen. I can't stress enough how important this sense of family is for individuals who are away from home.
In addition to their air refueling work, our March Airmen undertook a major volunteer project to renovate a K-8th grade school two miles from Incirlick Air Base in the city of Adana. At $5 a plate, the Airmen have barbecued their way to more than $1,600 in donations for supplies and tools. The manual labor is courtesy of the Airmen themselves.
In an e-mail to the base's radio station, Tech. Sgt. Mark Brennan, safety NCOIC for the 90th EARS, wrote, "We were able to clean all the buildings from top to bottom. We were able to repair all the fixtures in the bathrooms. We were able to pay to have the heating and air conditioners fixed, with warranties and Freon. We also were able to give them money to get their computer lab fixed and a new modem installed so the kids are able to comply with the Turkish District standards which include computer literacy, computer testing and a few other classes that are Internet based."
"The school has a very meager fixed budget and cannot even afford a janitor. The 'deep cleaning' was a huge hit (particularly the bathrooms) with everyone," said Lt. Col. Kurt Driskill, 90 EARS commander. He said the repair of the heating units was particularly important because without them, the 500-student school burns wood to keep warm. "The kids often get burn injuries 'just being kids' around the fire."
The selfless work our Airmen accomplished and the money they raised undoubtedly changed the way the local Turkish students and their families perceived American servicemembers.
Also while I was in Turkey, I visited with the active duty base commander and the operations group commander. They had nothing but positive things to say about the work our Airmen are doing for them. In fact, the relationship between our deployers and base leadership is tremendously positive because of our own leadership ensuring that we take care of each other and avoid negative behaviors.
"Roughly every 15 minutes, a C-17 or KC-135 from the 385th Air Expeditionary Group departs for airfield and forward operating bases in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, laden with cargo and fuel in support of Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom," wrote Col Robert Holba, commander of the 385th Air Expeditionary Group in a commentary published Jan. 13. "Commanding the 90th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron is Lt. Col. Chuck Assumma from March ARB who recently swapped out with Lt. Col. Kurt Driskill, also from March. These squadrons and their associated detachments are a living example of the capabilities of total force integration, the fusion of Air Force active duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and civilian employees into a more capable and efficient Air Force."
It's not normally possible for me to visit our deployed Airmen, but I was glad I had the opportunity on this occasion. While I see Airmen doing a fantastic job here at March every day, it's a great thing to see them exhibiting their high expectations and strong work ethic overseas. Great work, 90th!