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My tour at Erhac Air Base, Turkey was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I was the last enlisted person to be assigned to Erhac.
The Airmen I worked with were good men; however, our leadership left a lot to be desired. Our First Sergeant had us cleaning his shower and toilet area - he was too good to do it himself. Our commander, a Lt. Col., was motivated and a good person; however he made the mistake of having an affair with a Senior NCO’s wife, which resulted in him being relieved of his command. There were times we had no idea what was going to happen to us - Desert Storm was on the horizon.
I was stationed at the 12th Student Squadron at Randolph AFB when I received a canceled assignment notification to Riyadh Saudi Arabia. I inquired with the Air Force Military Personnel Center (AFMPC) assignments why the assignment was canceled, they stated it was because I had not worked at a consolidated base personnel office (CBPO) even though my AFSC was changed from 70270B to 732X0 – Personnel, and I designated as a 7 level. I asked the assignments person how hot was I for a remote tour; she told me, "Don’t unpack your bags." She gave me a week to complete a new Dream Sheet and get it back to her. Erhac was one of my assignment selections.
Soon thereafter, an article appeared in the Air Force Times indicating that Erhac would be closing in the near future. I went back to AFMPC to ask why I was selected for a tour where the installation would be closing in the next 12 months. I was advised to accept the tour; if I stayed for more than 181 days, I would receive the short tour credit.
I arrived at Erhac Air Base, Turkey on XX XXX XXXX. Prior to my arrival I was advised by my sponsor to wear civilian clothes on the airplane and to hide my military ID. As I got off the plane I saw an armored personnel carrier with a large weapon mounted on it and pointed at the aircraft. I spent my first night in Turkey at Incirlik Air Base. I spent a couple days at Incirlik, in-processing. Upon my arrival at Erhac I was told not to walk out of our compound at night because the Turkish Air Force (Türk Hava Kuvvetleri – THK) guards would shoot at us.
The 7394 Munitions Support Squadron (MUNSS) had a tradition that required new personnel to go through what can only be termed as a hazing ritual; go to the club, drink alcoholic Dr. Peppers – Amaretto & rum poured in a shot glass which is then dropped into a large mug of beer and drink it as fast as possible – a few of those and intoxication sets in quickly. Part of the ritual is to be nicknamed by fellow Airmen stationed at Erhac, and receive a ball cap with the nick name on it. I was named "Big Bird".
There were less than twenty Airmen at Erhac. We were in a caretaker status, not much to do; most of us had additional duties that coincided with supporting our very small squadron. I was given Accounting and Finance paying agent responsibilities. Every thirty days or so we would go TDY to Incirlik Air Base to pick up supplies for our compound. My job was to ensure we had enough American Dollars and Turkish Lira to support our site and the civilians who worked at a radar installation on a mountain in our area. The civilians would visit us once a month to get off the mountain, purchase personal goods, and spend a few days with us, a morale break for them.
Once, a THK General chewed my ass in front of a lot of his Airmen. He was pissed off that we were not providing them with information pertaining to shutting down our site. At the time, I was the ranking Air Force Airman at our site; there is still a piece of my ass in the General’s headquarters building.
As we were loading equipment on a C-130 aircraft to be dispersed to other U.S. military sites in Turkey, the THK decided they were not happy with our activity. They surrounded the C-130 with vehicles and weapons. The THK personnel who surrounded our C-130 are the same personnel we taught English to and invited them to our dining facility to eat steak and lobster, and invited them to our club to enjoy adult beverages. They also invited us to one of their dinner parties with endless food and drink. I was notified by one of our Airmen what was happening. Again, I was the senior ranking NCO at the site. I called a Colonel at TUSLOG in Ankara. He called whomever and ascertained that the THK wanted a copy of the manifest of what was being loaded on the C-130.
The Eagle, a C-130, flew in once a week to resupply us with food and other necessities. It always arrived just before lunch. On one occasion, I drove the forklift to unload aircraft pallets off the C-130. One of the pallets had a cold box on it filled with various foods and fresh fruit. We knew the fruit was in the cold box. After delivering the cold box to the dining facility, I went in the dining facility to enjoy lunch. I asked where the fruit was, specifically the bananas. Our dining facility personnel (Turkish civilians), told me, "Sorry Abi, bananas TDY." We later found out that the Turkish personnel took our bananas to the THK dining facility down the street from our compound. My Dad always told me that the Turks were fierce fighters, but they could not be trusted, he was right.
Every three years the contract that deals with Turkish personnel working on U.S. military installations is negotiated. Even though the Turks had been working in our facilities for years, they walked off the job and sabotaged our air conditioning, making living conditions a bit warm in 100 plus degree temperatures. After our HVAC equipment was damaged, we locked the Turks out of our building until after the new contract was agreed upon. One of the Kellogg, Brown, and Root’s (KBR) manager came to Erhac to cook for us and ensure our dining facility was not pilfered by the Turks. We lived on scrambled eggs, pancakes, hamburgers, and hot dogs, using microwave ovens and the outside barbeque grill.
We were instructed to not drink the water out of the tap. Driving through the country side, we saw naked children playing in open aqueducts that water moved through, water that was used by the Turks for cooking and drinking, and by the Base. When we went to Incirlik for resupply runs, one truck was dedicated to hauling bottled water. When we went to Malatya for shopping trips, we were told to drink only bottled water, or other beverages which had lids on them.
Our last Commander taught us to order yogurt with off-site meals; supposedly, the cultures in the yogurt killed anything in the food that was not good for us. As much as we tried we could not avoid dysentery, we had to live on clear fluids and Jell-O until it passed. I came down with pneumonia while I was home on emergency leave for my Mother's funeral. The pneumonia probably started before I left Turkey on emergency leave. Our showers at Erhac were single person stalls with floor to ceiling doors for privacy. We would close the shower door, crank up the hot water, and enjoy the steam. Breathing in steam from unhealthy water more than likely caused the pneumonia.
We had a swimming pool in our compound. Our Commander brought his lady friend and her 15 year-old daughter to our site. The daughter wanted to use the swimming pool and we were tasked with being with her at the pool so that she was not there by herself. She wore a blue bikini that barely covered the appropriate bodily areas. The Smurfs (what we called the THK conscripts – they wore royal blue denim uniforms) found out about the young lady and there was a steady stream/parade of Smurfs through the pool area. Seeing what amounted to a nude woman in the pool was more than they could resist.
Months before Desert Storm became a reality the THK was preparing for an invasion. Erhac sits at the bottom of a mountain range; they could have seen the Iraqis coming from over the border, which we were a long way from.. I patrolled a perimeter road, approximately eight miles. The Smurfs were digging fox holes and running communication lines across the road to each fox hole. We advised TUSLOG what was happening; they told us the THK was not advising them of anything as it related to war preparation. We were instructed by TUSLOG to drive perimeter road once a day and advise of the Turks' status.
There were two telephone poles separated by approximately 50 yards with a wire stretched between the tops of the pole. I asked what the poles and wire were for. I was told that was their radar. Once, while I was driving on the flightline getting the lay of the land, so to speak, I observed a Smurf attempting to put out a pickup truck engine fire with a broom. Most of their aircraft looked dirty and needed some serious cleaning, nothing like what I worked with in Germany. NATO had empty munitions bunkers at Erhac and had installed new Joint Service Interior Intrusion Detection Systems (JSIIDS) in the ammo bunkers and refused to let the THK use them. The THK stored their munitions outside on pallets; some were grounded, some were not. When we ask ourselves why our Air Force does what it does when it comes to aircraft and munitions maintenance procedures all one has to do is look at the THK.
When we drove to Malatya for the day, we were required to park our crew cab/six pack pickup truck in the same place every time near the police station so that the police knew we were in town, and they kept an eye on our truck. When we left Malatya, we inspected the truck to include looking under it for suspicious items.
(More later, René Arnold, 20 Aug 2015.)