HOW IT ALL CAME ABOUT
I was posted to İncirlik in December, 1970, fresh out of Munitions Maintenance School at Lowry AFB, Denver. Your orders never actually gave the name of the place you were going to, only the APO Address number. In my case, it was 09289, and someone had to look that up to see it meant İncirlik AFB, Adana , Turkey.
I think there were about seven of us out of our class who got orders to Turkey, although one or two were sent to Izmir instead of Adana. We didnít really complain though, because the class that graduated just ahead of us was sent en masse to Viet Nam. We were still dropping a lot of bombs over there in 1970 and Munitions Maintenance was a highly desired skill in Southeast Asia. Just being out of Technical School and still wet behind the ears, we were like fresh meat to the guys already working in the İncirlik bomb dump.
After working in the Storage and Handling section for about 6 months, I had acquired enough seniority to be transferred to the much desired night shift. The summers were really hot and we worked outside 90% of the time, so being able to work at night was a nice break, and one you had to put in your time to get. The hours were good too. One week we worked Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night, plus that weekend. So, we went in on Friday at 4:30 and didnít come off duty until 7:30 Monday morning every other weekend. Next week we just worked Tuesday and Thursday nights from 4:30 to 7:30. They had bunks in the Ammo Command Post, which was also air conditioned (our barracks rooms were not).
So, most days, I had quite a bit of time on my hands. It was usually too hot to sleep during the day, so I looked for things to keep me busy. I ended up taking a college English course through the University of Maryland and studied Turkish from a book a guy gave me when his DEROS (Date of Return from Overseas) date came up. I also took a correspondence course in Journalism through the Air Force Education Program. The civilian secretary in the Base Education office was a Filipino married to a Junior Officer who ran the base newspaper. Since I had an obvious interest in English and Journalism, she suggested that I go down to the paper and he would see about putting me to work when I was off duty.
I stayed on the unofficial staff at the İncirlik Insider for about 6 months, until I rotated off the night shift and had to go back to work in the bomb dump on days. The newspaper itself was actually a base concession that was operated by a Turkish gentleman named Behzat Mentesoglu. He taught me many things about Turkey and I got to accompany him to downtown Adana on the days he brought the rough copy to be set in the printing presses. He was a true gentleman in the old aristocratic sense because everyone we met seemed eager to please him, and called him Behzat Bey. He liked having me along as I could proof read the various articles as they were being hand set by the printers (who couldnít read a word of English and sometimes mixed the Turkish letters in with the English ones). We drank lots of çay and Behzat would order lunch to be brought back to the shop. I am glad that his legacy lives on through the actual newspapers that I managed to keep and store all these years and can now share them with others, both here and back in Turkey. They appear below with appropriate explanations.
When I was at the newspaper, I got used to writing under a deadline, and being able to think and write coherently at the same time I banged out an article. We used an old manual typewriter with a spool of double paper with carbon paper in between. The paper wasn't even decent. It was kind of like the rough paper you get with kids coloring books. Amazing, the strange stuff you recall.
ARTICLES ABOUT LIFE AT IN«İRLİK
About the articles pictured below:
They were all set by hand in a print shop in Downtown Adana by Turks who didn't read a word of English. They did it by mimicking the letters, and sometimes crossed theirs with ours. One of my jobs was to go downtown with Behzat, who had the newspaper franchise on base, and help the printers by proofreading as they set the type. Quite an experience every week for a year. We congratulate and thank Tom for having so well preserved these slices of İncirlik life.
I served at Inçirlik from 1970-72. Although the base was separated from CONUS by several thousand miles, it was a still a microcosm of life in the United States, and this meant it was still subject to racial tensions. We were just getting out of the 60ís and hadnít quite found our way into the 70ís. There were all sorts of polar opposites on display in Inçirlik in those days: the young airmen versus the ďlifersĒ; the career enlisted versus the ROTC officers, and sadly, the blacks versus the whites.
The Air Force obviously had concerns about the race issue among its personnel and tried various approaches in trying to deal with it. One of the more visible steps was the appointment of a base Equal Opportunity Officer (EOO). This job represented an added responsibility for the officer on top of his primary duties.
I donít remember a lot of complaints being routed through the EOO, as the personnel on base, particularly the younger airmen, preferred to try and resolve things themselves. But, there was a process in place if anyone chose to go that route.
Almost as troublesome as the racial tensions were, there was a different type of tension that eventually made its appearance on base. These tensions arose when the first enlisted females were brought into what in the past had been an all-male base population. I think they converted a Quonset hut into a barracks for them, and although there were no more than 10 females to start with, they quickly made their presence felt.
The hallmark of being assigned to Turkey was that there were ďno women.Ē This was made abundantly clear to us by the Staff Duty NCO on the bus that first took us from the Adana Airport to the base. Turkish women were strictly off limits and the oldest American female dependent was in 8th grade. After 8th grade, they all left to go to High School in Ankara. However, this didnít stop a couple of desperate Airman from pursuing these really young girls, nor did it stop me from pursuing a nice friendship with a beautiful Turkish college student at the end of my tour.
Most of the newly arrived females were assigned to Supply. They were eager, like everyone else, for something to do when they got off work. The base movie theater only showed one movie at a time and only changed movies twice a week. There was the bowling alley and the base recreation hall. But, the ďrealĒ place to be was the Airmanís Club, with its 0.25 beers and .50 mixed drinks. The drink prices were kept artificially low by the presence of slot machines in the club. After the scandals involved with the same machines in the clubs in SEA, they were eventually removed and drink prices went up. However, it was still possible to get pretty inebriated for $5 and most of the younger airman, both male and female, had a hard time holding their liquor. I can remember there being many more fights in the club (mostly over the women), to the extent that a lot of us stopped going there and partied in our barracks instead. One of the older NCOís, who was serving an unaccompanied tour even though he was married, used to mix up this concoction called ďGator Piss,Ē which was a blend of five different types of booze, topped off by an equal amount of Gatorade. Hence the name ďGator Piss.Ē Certainly a lot more fun and a lot less trouble than going to the Airmanís Club to drink.
One of the other things that exacerbated the racial tensions was some of the black airmen putting the moves on some of the white female airmen. Whether or not the female airmen welcomed the advances, many times the white airmen, who were in pursuit of the exact same female, took exception to the black airmen encroaching on their territory. After a while, it was apparent to those of us who had been there for 12 or 14 months, that bringing in those female airmen to fill a few jobs in Supply was causing much more trouble that it was worth. For reasons previously given, there were no available women on base to begin with, and now there were far too few of them to keep everyone happy. Now that the male/female ratios in todayís Air Force are better, this may not be the problem it was at Inçirlik back in 1971-72.
BACKGROUND ON MSgt. PRINCE ARTICLE BELOW:
Inçirlik CDI played a dual role in the 1970ís; first, it was a forward operational base for both US and Turkish fighter bombers; second, it was the last leg in a supply chain that stretched back to Frankfurt, Germany and eventually to McGuire AFB in New Jersey.
Inçirlik was the main supply hub for most of the NATO bases in Turkey. As such, the Military Airlift Command (MAC) had a very large presence on the base. There was a constant stream in and out of C-141 Starlifters and C-130 Hercules transport planes. The base was even part of the maiden tour of the C-5A Galaxy when it became operational.
The MAC crews, with their specialized K-loaders, were busy 24/7 loading and unloading aircraft. MSgt. Prince had to keep a lot of balls in the air at once to make this operation run smoothly, and by his selection as the Top Superintendent in the Air Force, really helped put Inçirlik on the map.
The MAST Program
The Married Airman Survival Training (or MAST) program was an attempt by the Air Force to help young couples deal with life away from home, which many of them were experiencing for the first time. It started in Germany, which had a large Air Force presence during the height of the Cold War, and eventually made its way to the rest of USAFE. While the program received no direct funding, it was made available for those who wished to participate in hopes of improving their quality of life while at Inçirlik.
The only base housing for married couples, or families, in the 70ís were trailers, some of which were brought in from Wheelus AFB in Libya after it was closed. These trailers were highly prized and normally went to the officers and upper level NCOís. Even they had to wait for quite a while for an opening. Most lived in downtown Adana during their time on the waiting list.
Married airmen with less than 4 years of service stood almost no chance of getting a trailer. The Air Force also would not pay for their wives to accompany them to Turkey, so only a very few were lucky enough to be able to afford this. Those that did bring their wives over almost always lived in downtown Adana for the length of their tours. Their wives were allowed to shop on base at the BX and the Commissary and generally enjoy using the other recreational facilities as well. But, an Airmanís pay was $100 every two weeks back then, and it didnít go very far for a couple, even with a housing allowance.
On top of all of this, many of the young couples, particularly the women, initially found it hard to adjust to everyday life in a strange country with different customs and a different language. Many of the young airmen who couldnít afford to bring their wives over found it hard to cope with being separated from their wives for fifteen to eighteen months. The MAST program was a means for these young men and women to get together and share their experiences on adjusting to life in Turkey. Eventually most of them got the hang of it and thoroughly enjoyed their tours to the point where they would ask to come back again in the future.
BACKGROUND ON TURKISH YOUNG ADULTS VISIT
Both the US and the Turkish Commanders at Inçirlik knew how important it was to maintain cordial relations with the neighboring Turkish community. This was especially important during the early 70ís because of the anti-military (or anti-US) mindset of some of the younger generation. The base thought it would be easier to impress this audience by means of a friendly tour for a friendly group who already advocated better relations.
The Junior Officers Council had a record of doing these types of tours in the past, and everyone on base was eager to open their duty stations for them and explain to them what they did. I remember the Turkish group especially liking the tour of the on-base TV and Radio studio, as there was almost no chance that any of them had ever seen something like that before. The fact that they could see Turkish soldiers and US Airmen working side by side in such areas as the control tower also drove home the message that Inçirlik was, indeed, a "joint" defense installation.
The stories below are some of those inevitible
memories occurring after I had submitted my stories
to Merhaba-USMilitary.com. These were added June 6, 2010:
BIG BANG - ALMOST
One day towards the end of my tour, we had a vehicle problem that managed to turn itself into a major munitions incident. There was a storage area that we called the Lower Area because it was in a gully by itself down a pretty steep road. An operation was put together to take the munitions out of the buildings down there and relocate them to another area that was more secure.
The work itself was pretty straight-forward. You had a forklift down there; it loaded up a 40í flatbed trailer with a bunch of palletized 750 lb bombs, which were then transported to a different storage area and unloaded. Itís kind of like digging a hole and filling it in, only to be told to dig another one and fill that in, etc. But, work was work, so we did what we were supposed to.
The 15 Ton Mack Tractor assigned to us was broken (as usual) and in the Motor Pool for repair. So, we had to haul the flatbed trailer full of bombs with a 5 ton Ford tractor instead. Little did we realize that the 5 ton Ford was overmatched by both the load it was pulling and the steep incline of the road leading out of the area. My buddy Mac was driving and I was riding shotgun. About halfway up the hill, the truck was really struggling and the clutch began to slip. It just wouldnít pull the load any more even in 1st gear. So, Mac began to back it down the hill, which also had a sharp curve on it. Unfortunately he wasnít too good at backing up a 40í trailer, and it started to go off the side of the road. We put on the trailer brakes and threw the main air brake to stop the truck. The rest of the munitions in the area were at the bottom of the hill now directly underneath the bomb-laden trailer. The only thing holding the bombs onto the trailer were the nylon tie-down straps that they used on the aircraft to hold the loads in place.
So now we have a munitions incident on our hands and all the officers and NCOís descend on us. The first thing they did was put chains and load binders on the trailer to replace the lighter tie-down straps because if the straps broke, then the bombs on the trailer would go rolling down the hill right into the bombs at the bottom. That would not be nice. But, even after they got the load on the trailer secured, they still had a trailer off the road and a tractor that couldnít pull its own weight hooked up to it.
The solution was to bring over the huge tug that they used to pull the C-5ís around with on the flightline. Well, this thing travels at about 2 miles an hour and it took a good hour for it to get to the scene. In the meantime, we had blocked off the road leading to the area so no one else could go down there. The lifers had pretty much taken over by then and all of us younger guys were just hanging around the roadblock; some were even posing for pictures on the broken tractor trailer. For some unknown reason, we were treating this as a lark, even though looking back on it, we should have been scared out of our minds with all those bombs in proximity to each other. Eventually the C-5 tug got there and they got it hooked up to the Ford tractor with a couple of big chains. It took about 2 minutes for it to completely pull the loaded tractor trailer combination out of the ditch and back on to the road. It finished pulling it up the hill, where the trailer was dropped and another tractor hooked up to it. The poor Ford 5 ton was sent to the Motor Pool for a new clutch and a tune up. It was relegated to only light duty on level ground after that.
I wonder if any of the guys that were there taking pictures still have them? Quite an afternoon adventure.
MORE IN«İRLİK MEMORIES
Some of the guys used to rent horses from the Turkish concession on base, and then ride along the perimeter fence, most of which bordered the bomb dump areas. I remember one Monday morning we went out to the New Area, which was the farthest out, and found a dead horse leaning up against the fence. I guess it belonged to some Turkish farmer because if it was a base horse, they wouldn't have just left it there. Anyway, rigor had already set in and we didn't know what to do with it. Necessity being the mother of invention, we were training for a napalm mix that day and had a big pit where we mixed the jelly and gas and then burned it. So, some guys got one of our farm tractors and dragged the carcass over to the napalm pit. You can imagine the rest, but that pit smelled really bad for about 3 weeks and we took an alternate route whenever we went to that area.
I learned how to say in Turkish, ďAre you going to the kerhane (brothel)?" I used to say it to my Turkish friends on base and really crack them up! I never went to the one in Adana because guys had caught something there even though it was supposedly government regulated. We used to charter a dolmus from one of the houseboy's cousins and go to the ones down in İskenderun. No one that I knew ever caught anything at those private houses. Some of the girls were really young looking though, and I used to hear rumors about them being in some sort of servitude until they could pay back the money that their parents owed to the guys in the house.
Life was easy in our barracks (Bldg. 960 near the snack bar and Oasis Movie Theater). We had a Barracks Chief for each floor and kicked in $10 a month for barracks dues and $2 extra if you wanted your shoes shined. We had two Turkish houseboys and a shoe shine boy (teenager) who looked after the halls, latrines and our rooms. No GI Parties in our barracks, and if the 1st Sgt. came to inspect it was the houseboys who caught hell, not us. A carton of cigarettes a week would cover them doing your laundry for you too. So, we had it pretty soft compared to training bases and other ones in Europe and the States.
There was an Officers Club on base at İncirlik and it belonged mainly to the fighter jocks who drove the F-4's. I think the regular staff officers who lived on the base felt a little out of place with the goings on in there when those guys got wound up. My buddy and I had a deal delivering pizzas from the O Club kitchen all over base. They had an old beat up panel truck (not AF blue) that they used to let us drive to make the deliveries. We got to go to all the barracks plus the base housing to bring the pizzas. We stayed away from the fighter jocks and no one really bothered us. They used to have bands rotate in from USAFE that played in the different clubs on base. I got to be friends with this piano player from England and we played together in the O' club quite a bit. The base commander (Col. Bird, believe it or not) came up one night as we were packing up. I thought he was going to chew me out for being in there because he was the type to stop you on base and yell at you to zip your jacket or button your sleeves. But, all he said was "nice sax" and walked out. I think he was the one who volunteered our GI band to go to Erhac for the weekend too. I remember hanging out with other musicians when they came on base; there was a Greek/Turkish piano player in the O Club, a English rock and roll band with girls and horns in the Airman's and the NCO club (I was trying to date one of them -- a female trombone player). The USAFE band came in for a couple of concerts and I met some of them at the Airman's club. I almost went into the band, but they were full and I had to take a Mechanical enlistment instead. I asked the guys in the band what is was like to do that as your primary AFSC. They said it was the same as everything else in the Air Force: the lifers ran it and had the best chairs even though most of the younger guys could play better than them because they were fresh out of good music schools like Eastman, etc. So life wasnít easy with the lifers no matter what job you had.
STRANDED AT ERHAC
We had a band that we put together in the Recreation Center that the Base Commander decided was good enough to do some tours of the remote sites. The first one we got sent to was Erhac -- the Hog. We played Friday and Saturday night in the club -- all ranks because the base contingent was too small to have a separate officers and NCO club. We had a great time and the guys there kept us up all night. Everybody that I talked to there, even the lifers, hated the isolation. They took me downtown to look at the dirt streets in Town and to buy some souvenirs. I think it was actually the town of Malataya near Erhac. There were a couple of lifers there (one had 12 years in) that said they weren't going to re-up because they were so pissed at the AF for sending them to a base like that in the middle of nowhere. At least no one was shooting at them or they weren't dodging mortar attacks.
We ended up getting stranded there that weekend by a snow storm. I think there was only 1 base bird at İncirlik that belonged to the Colonel, and it didn't have any radar on it. The Turkish base didn't have any GCA stuff to land with so nothing could get to us. I think they did manage to get a Medevac jet in there for a guy that broke his leg skiing and had to be airlifted out, but we were stuck there for about 3 days. I kept calling İncirlik to talk to the NCOIC of the bomb dump and told him to call over to the Base Commander if he didn't like me not reporting for work. After all, it was the Commander's idea to send us up there for that weekend. They ended up sending a C-130 (that could land and take off in anything) up there on a supply run and we got a ride back to İncirlik on that. I don't think the Turks plowed the runway or the taxi way because the pilot had to put the back door down and back all the way to the end of the runway to take off, guided by the loadmaster, who kept telling him a little right, a little left. What a trip.
While I was stuck at the Hog I heard a story about this Capt. who was manning the control room at the base. I think he was an Air Cop type because we provided the security for our special weapons even though they were on a Turkish base. There were a few Oscars hanging around the control room because they were guarding it. It was a Sunday morning and the Capt. didn't have anything better to do, so he went in a cleaned the latrine so it was spotless. Anyway, he went back in to take a leak about two hours later and they could hear him screaming at the Oscars all the way over in the chow hall. He had gone into his clean latrine and found two footprints on the toilet seat! Was he pissed! But, it was just Joe Turk doing his thing without the benefit of his usual bomb sight!
MOTOR POOL LIAISON
After I was on the night shift for 6 months, I got reassigned to the trailer shop. The bomb dump used a lot of small, special trailers for transporting munitions, rockets, etc. from place to place and out to the flight line. Working in the trailer shop consisted mostly of doing Preventative Maintenance, checking wheel bearings, replacing surge brakes and cables and so on.
When the Sgt. in charge of the Ammo vehicles rotated back to the States, I had enough seniority to put in for his job. I convinced the Major that my knowledge of Turkish, plus the ability to relate to them would come in handy in our relations with the Motor Pool. There were only a couple of GIís that worked in the base Motor Pool. Tumpane Company had the contract to service all of the base vehicles and employed mostly Turkish workers. So, if you wanted to get along down there, it was important to fit in.
Since the bomb dump was at the opposite end of the base from the motor pool, I spent a lot of my time just driving vehicles back and forth. We had all sorts of equipment that we used: Enclosed Ford farm tractors for pulling trailers and doing escort duty, H-11 cranes for loading and off-loading trailers, all types of forklifts, plus numerous trucks, tractor trailers, and so on. We didnít have any good way to transport the forklifts to the motor pool, so if one had to go down there for maintenance, and it ran, I had to drive it all the way (backwards because the radiator was in the back, not the front).
Once I got there, I would check and see what of our vehicles were ready to be put back in service. I used to go back in the shops and drink chai with the mechanics, who had very little contact with us on a daily basis. I could disappear for whole afternoons down there and no one would know where I was. However, I managed to get vehicles repaired and back in service that had been languishing down there literally for months, including a monster 15 ton Mack tractor that we almost had never seen because it was always broken. So just as long as I got results and didnít have a lot of vehicles out of service, the officers and Senior NCOís pretty much left me alone.