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A Love Affair with Turkey

By H. Michael Bartley, Lt. Col., USAF, JAG (Ret.)

© 2003-2011 by Author


I’m a native Texan from the Northeast part of the State. In the late 1960’s, while attending East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas, some guys in my boarding house convinced me to take the Air Force ROTC exam. One thing led to another and two years later, in 1970, about 20 of us were commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the United States Air Force. We had our commissioning ceremony at Perrin AFB, TX.

The military has always been accused of turning cooks into mechanics, and vice-versa, so I guess I should not have been surprised that they took me, an English and history major, and made me an aircraft maintenance office. The Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course at Chanute was a five-month course crammed into seven months! After that, I was assigned to Reese AFB, TX. (photo) I had always intended on doing my five years and getting out, but after about two years of fussing with 100 T-38 jet trainers and 245 aircraft mechanics and supervisors, I got a chance to attend law school on an Air Force educational program. Fast forward three years and I morphed into a brand new Air Force Judge Advocate (JAG) working for “Mean” Henry Green, the Base Staff Judge Advocate at Barksdale AFB, LA.

By this time, I had been on active duty for 7 years, and the JAG personnel gurus in Washington were telling me I was “hot” for overseas. My wife and I definitely had no interest in Asia or the Pacific. My wife was quite an Old Testament scholar and she had visions of living in the Southern Med area. A couple of years earlier, my wife had taken a tour of the Middle East, and although her tour did not include Turkey, she had a pretty good idea of what that part of the world was like. So I filled out a “dream sheet” and asked for reassignment to Italy, Greece, Crete, or Turkey. Several months later, Colonel Green called me from a conference he was attending and said, “Bart….you’re going to İncirlik Turkey!” (At that time, during “Provisional Status,” the name of the base was changed to “İncirlik Common Defense Installation.”) We were also known as “TUSLOG Det 10,” as we reported directly to the Wing Commander.” Fortunately, we had six long months to prepare for this move.

Thus on the 27th of December, 1977…..that big crowd of people at the Braniff gate in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport….that’s my mother and brother, my wife’s mother and father and brother, and two of our best friends, Joe and Jean Grimes (who arrived late, after we had already boarded), seeing us off on our first big adventure overseas.

Our flight routing was commercial all the way: DFW-JFK-Rome-Istanbul-Adana. Back then, you could break your journey and take leave en route. We arranged to do that so we could have a week’s leave in Rome. I guess that means our overseas experience started in Rome. We had a wonderful week there. The USO in Rome got us a reservation in a small little hotel just off St. Peter’s Square. We were still pretty “green” as far as traveling was concerned, but I hope we didn’t descend to the level of the Griswalds! Since this web site is not about Italy, I’ll not bore you with the week in Rome.

We resumed our journey on January 3, 1978, and flew Rome to Istanbul. The Turks were having trouble with terrorists in this time period, but I was still unprepared for Turkish security forces in civilian clothes climbing on board the aircraft with their “uzzis.” We were herded to a small area in the domestic terminal where we were to wait for our flight to Adana. But my wife and I had a surprise waiting. My boss, then Major, now Colonel John R. Brancato, USAF, JAG (Ret.) had arranged for the US Air Force Civilian Attorney in Istanbul, Aydin Menguc, to meet us at the airport. Aydin-bey took us in his own car, an Anadolu, and drove us around the old city for an hour or so, before getting us back to the airport in time to catch our flight.

The plane to Adana was a DC-9, completely packed, and thick with cigarette smoke. But our excitement rose as we made our night approach into the Adana airport (now called Sakirpasa airport). We could see the city lit up with lights and I remarked to my wife that “this place looks modern.” Needless to say, it looked a lot different the next day!

We were met at the airport by the entire legal office crew. What a great welcoming treat that was. My boss, Major Brancato, Captain Barry Hammil whom I was replacing, Captain Bill Agin, and our office NCOIC MSgt Jerry Flaggs. (photo) It was freezing cold, and we were not prepared for the fight to get to our bags. We had been given an extra baggage allowance and we had six or seven suitcases to claim. Our six months of waiting was finally over and at last our feet were on Turkish soil.

Little did we know what would lie ahead. We could have never dreamed that for the rest of my Air Force career, our lives would be connected in one way or another to Turkey and the Turkish military. Who would imagine that I would have the opportunity to serve seven years in Turkey, in four separate JAG assignments, three of them joint units with Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel all working together.

Lt Colonel H. Michael Bartley's, Assignment History:

  • Commissioned Second Lieutenant, USAF, 22 May 1970
  • Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course, Chanute AFB, IL, 1970-71
  • T-37 and T-38 Flightline Maintenance Officer, Reese AFB, TX, 1971-1973
  • Law Student, Texas Tech University School of Law, Lubbock, TX, 1973-1976
  • Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, Barksdale AFB, LA, 1976-1977
  • Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, İncirlik CDI, Turkey, 1978-1979
  • Staff Judge Advocate, RAF Chicksands, England, 1979-1982
  • Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, Carswell AFB, TX, 1982-1985
  • Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, HQ ATC, Randolph AFB, TX, 1985-1987
  • Student, Defense Language Institute (Turkish), Presidio of Monterrey , CA, 1987
  • Deputy, then Chief Legal Adviser, Joint United States Military Mission for Aid to Turkey (JUSMMAT), 1987-1989
  • Staff Judge Advocate, 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, UK, 1989-1992
  • Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, Sheppard AFB, TX, 1992-1995
  • Legal Adviser, Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, İncirlik AB, Turkey, Oct 1994- March 1995
  • Chief Legal Adviser, Office of Defense Cooperation-Turkey, (formerly JUSMMAT), 1995-1997
  • Retired from Active Duty, 1 Jan 1998
  • Current Occupation: Elected County Attorney and Misdemeanor Prosecutor

Click photos to see enlargements

Commissioning ceremony, Perrin AFB, TX, 22 May 1970. My wife and my mother pinning on my the gold bars of a second lieutenant.


Me outside our house on 33rd Street in Lubbock, Texas, where I served as an aircraft maintenance officer for 2.5 years. We still wore the 1505 khaki uniform, but not for long.


Texas Tech University School of Law, where I was a student from 1973 to 1975.


During my second year of law school as an AFIT student; we slacked up a little on the haircuts.


My wife and I after a flight in a Cessna 172. I earned my private and commercial pilot’s license while in law school.


The main gate at İncirlik CDI in January 1978. As a result of provisional status, we could have no USAF presence at the main gate. Unfortunately, we had many incidents at the main gate during provisional status.


Wing Headquarters, TUSLOG DET 10. We were not allowed to fly the American flag on the installation.


TUSLOG DET 193, the Base Commander and his staff, occupied the left (nearest) half of the building. TUSLOG DET 10/JA occupied the other half. Both buildings were still being used (but for different purposes) when I last left İncirlik in November 1997.


Our house apartment on Vali Yolu in Adana. The owner, Mr. Abdullah Paksoy and his family lived on the first floor (second floor to Americans) and we lived on the top floor. I must say that we were blessed with one of the nicest off base housing in Adana.


The huge stone fireplace in our living room. Yes we burned wood in the winters.


Family seeing us off from DFW airport en route to Adana via New York, Rome, and Istanbul.


Left to right, my boss, Major John Brancato, and Captain Bill Agin. This was a party at the apartment of our court reporter, Ms. Ida Nagelhouse.


Left to right, Kemal Dagtekin (“Big John”) talking to Colonel B. J. Martin, Base Commander.


Big John talking to Diane Asdourian at Ida’s party.


The USAF Defense Counsel, Captain James P. Knox and his wife, Adra.


Picture I took of one of the houses in Pozanti that was burned down when USAF Airmen on a snow camping trip accidentally set four houses on fire.


The Cilician Gates, a narrow pass through the Taurus Mountains about 40 miles north of Tarsus. The area around Adana and Mersin was called Clilica in Roman times. Various Roman legions carved their insignia on the rock wall of this pass. Construction of the six-lane motorway through this pass in the 1980’s obliterated the ancient pass.


I took a picture of my wife leaning on this tree just outside the legal office. She was taking a hop on a MAC flight to Athens.


The same leaning tree, the same wife, 17 years later.

“İncirlik 1”: Jan 1978 – Aug 1979

The deteriorating condition of İncirlik Common Defense Installation-Turkey in the late 1970’s was rooted in the Turkey-Cyprus conflict. Since at least 1950, the Government of Cyprus had sought to be joined with Greece. The Turkish Government opposed this effort because it felt the Turkish Cypriot minority on Cyprus would suffer discrimination and repression.

In 1964, when tensions between Cyprus and Turkey were highly volatile, President Lyndon Johnson wrote a letter to the Government of Turkey (the “Johnson letter”). In this letter, President Johnson threatened that if Turkey invaded Cyprus, the United States would not stand by its NATO Treaty obligation to defend Turkey against attack from the Soviet Union. The Turkish military has never forgotten the Johnson letter, and this helps explain a certain lack of trust between some Turkish military leaders and their US counterparts.

On July 20, 1974, Turkish troops invaded Cyprus and took control of the northern 40 per cent of the island. In February 1975, the US Congress imposed an arms embargo on Turkey. As a result, in July 1975, the Government of Turkey placed all US military units in Turkey on “Provisional Status.” Turkey cancelled all existing bilateral agreements with the US. A Turkish “Installation Commander” was posted to each installation. All construction and facility maintenance was cancelled, which led to deterioration of facilities. The base exchange in Ankara was closed and receipt of packages through the APO was suspended at all installations.

After three difficult years of Provisional Status, Congress realized that the arms embargo did nothing to solve the Cyprus problem, and was seriously undermining US-Turkish relations. The embargo was lifted on 26 September 1978. A week later, the Government of Turkey cancelled most of the restrictions placed on US forces. However, the “bell had been rung,” the damage had been done, and relations with the host nation had been permanently damaged.

During Provisional Status, 1975 to 1978, tensions were higher at İncirlik CDI than at any other installation. The Staff Judge Advocate, Major John Brancato had been tasked to do whatever could be done to protect and expand US operations at İncirlik. Capt Bill Agin, an astute lawyer from Mississippi, took care of military justice actions and claims. I was assigned to the “Turkey portfolio.” In addition, I was the NATO Trial Observer for all criminal cases brought in Turkish Court against US personnel in southern Turkey. I was also responsible for monitoring the welfare of 7 US airmen confined in the Adana Prison on drug charges.

Housing was critical at İncirlik in 1978. My wife and I were billeted in a small VOQ room for two weeks. There were no cooking facilities and we had only a shared bathroom. Fortunately, the VOQ was just across the street from our office, which also housed TUSLOG DET 193, the Base Commander and his staff. After two weeks, we had to leave the VOQ and were moved to the Merhaba Palas in downtown Adana, just off “River Road.” It was a large apartment building rented by the Air Force for long term temporary housing. The heating was inadequate, this being the middle of January, and we stuffed pillows in the broken window in our bathroom to keep out the wind.

After two miserable weeks in the Merhaba Palas, we were able to rent a large, spacious 3-bedroom flat on the top floor of a 3-story villa on Vali Yolu, just across from the Kapali Spor Solunu (the municipal gymnasium). The owner lived below. We were very fortunate and blessed to be able to rent the flat, and we lived there the entire 18 months we were at İncirlik. We never moved on base. Our flat had a huge wood-burning fireplace, one of the few in all of Adana.

We had shipped over a 1971 VW Camper, and our building had an enclosed parking area for the van. İncirlik CDI was about 10 miles from the eastern edge of Adana. There were three basic ways to get to and from work: drive your own vehicle or ride with someone else; catch a contract “Adali” bus that ran between Adana and İncirlik on a set schedule; or take a taxi. Most times, I drove the van.

In addition to my primary duties as NATO Trial Observer, Chief of Foreign Criminal Jurisdiction, and Chief of “all Turkish problems,” I also had my share of legal assistance, contract reviews, and routine JAG duties such as giving the weekly newcomer’s briefing. I still have the original outline of the briefing.

There were some interesting and exciting events, like the time two of our rotational “rote” F-4 crews broke the sound barrier over the small village of Karatas, about 40 km south of Adana. We put together a response team and deployed to Karatas to inspect the damage, mainly broken glass in homes and businesses all over Karatas. Then there was the day a USAF C-141 crew inbound from Germany to İncirlik, mistook the Adana Municipal airport for the runway at İncirlik (despite the fact that the two runways are 15 miles apart). The crew actually landed the C-141 at Adana Municipal. We had to smooth the ruffled feathers of the airport folks before it became an international incident.

In my role as NATO Trial Observer, I traveled widely to other towns and cities where US personnel had caused problems or had been charged with criminal offenses. Our faithful Turkish Attorney-Advisor, Mr. Aydin Yilmaz Tansal, and our expert interpreter Mr. Yilmaz Ozcelik, assisted me greatly. One of the more interesting cases involved several USAF enlisted men who decided to go snow camping in the mountain village of Pozanti, about 50 miles north of Tarsus. When their tents collapsed, they broke into a summer home and attempted to start a fire in the fireplace. The summer home caught fire and the fire spread to three other summer homes. We were able to get the airmen off on a light sentence, but the Air Force had to pay the damages for the destroyed homes.

Our time off duty usually involved exploring the area around İncirlik CDI in our VW camper. We made several trips to Kizkalesi and the “BP Mocamp,” a popular summer attraction for campers from İncirlik as well as campers from Europe. We spent a lot of time at Big John’s, a local souvenir shop on the “alley.” and we still count Kemal Dagtekin (Big John) and “Small” as dear friends. We were also able to take “hops” on the “MAC” flights, and we used this benefit to take leave in Greece on two or three occasions.

I was blessed to work with an outstanding group of people in the TUSLOG DET 10 Legal Office. Some of those are: Bill Agin, who is now a juvenile court judge in Mississippi; Bill Jones, my second boss at İncirlik, who is a civilian attorney at Scott AFB, IL; Dave Jenkins, who is an attorney in Des Moines, IA, practicing “pig law;” Jim Knox, our defense counsel and stand-up comic who practices law in Florida, and Ron White who was also a defense counsel at İncirlik.

The dedicated and hard-working enlisted paralegals included SMSgt Jerry Flagg, TSgt Gary Silva, SSgt Earl Hamilton, and later TSgt Kerry Miller who retired as a CMSgt and Paralegal Adviser to The Judge Advocate General of the Air Force. Civilian staff included our two secretaries, Diane Asdourian, and her replacement Marilyn Lowney; and our gracious and dedicated court reporter Ida Nagelhouse.

But my greatest blessing and honor was the opportunity to work for Major John R. Brancato. He was and is the most skilled and dedicated judge advocate I have ever known. It was my good luck to work for him at İncirlik, to benefit from his counsel and advice, and to learn the importance of being a “detail person.” [I also learned the importance of being a Day-Timer man, and he learned from me the importance of even-numbered post office boxes!] In 1985, I was assigned to HQ Air Training Command, and worked for him again when he was the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for ATC. He has always been my friend, my mentor, my coach, and my strongest supporter. His only weakness is that he always gave me more credit than I deserved.

My initial tour of duty at İncirlik CDI was for two years. Major Brancato departed in July, 1978, after I had been at İncirlik for 8 months. On the day of his going away party, the thermometer topped out at 116 degrees.

Shortly after my one-year point, my new boss, Major Bill Jones, was notified that my tour of duty was being curtailed by five months. I was being reassigned as the Staff Judge Advocate at Royal Air Force Station Chicksands, England. My reporting date there was the end of August.

The remaining days at İncirlik passed quickly, and we made every effort to do and see all those things we had been putting off. On our departure date, Dave and Mary Jenkins, Bill and Judy Jones, Ron and Shelly White, and other friends took us to the “MAC” terminal. We would fly to Athens, Greece, and spend two weeks on leave in Athens, in the apartment of a JAG friend who was on leave in Hawaii. As the engines on the C-141 wound up and the wheels broke ground, my wife and I looked at each other and we could see a few tears in our eyes. We had loved our 18 months at İncirlik. We still regard it as one of our very best assignments. We were sad our Turkey adventure was over, and we wondered if we would ever see Turkey again.

“Ankara 1”: July 1987 – Aug 1989

The last installment ended with us, teary eyed, leaving Turkey in a C-141 cargo aircraft and wondering whether we would ever see Turkey again. After leaving İncirlik CDI in August 1979, I spent three years at RAF Chicksands, England; three years at Carswell AFB, TX; and 19 months at HQ ATC, Randolph AFB, TX. In December, 1986, my boss at Randolph was Colonel Henry G. Green. Colonel Green was my first boss in my JAG career field at Barksdale AFB, LA. In the brief 21 months I worked for him at Barksdale, he taught me about leadership, accountability, and courage. I was blessed to be able to work for him again at Randolph AFB. Col Green continues to be a friend and confidant to this day. I had the good fortune to work twice for two of the most respected JAG officers in the Air Force, Colonels Green and Brancato.

In December, 1986, I had been at Randolph AFB only 17 months. Our office was hosting a conference for all the Staff Judge Advocates in ATC. On the second night, we took the entire group to eat at the Tower of the Americas. On the way to downtown San Antonio in a “blue goose” (Air Force school bus), Col Green came and sat behind my wife and I and said “Bart, I got a call last night from the assignments officer. They want you to go back to Turkey, this time to JUSMMAT in Ankara. [“JUSMMAT” was the lengthy acronym for “Joint United States Military Mission for Aid to Turkey.”] You’ll be the deputy legal adviser for a year and then take over as legal adviser when Lt Col Randy Harshman leaves.” My wife and I were stunned into silence! We had a wonderful house on base, I had a good job at ATC/JA, and I liked all my coworkers there. But by the time we finished dinner high above San Antonio, we were already getting excited about returning to Turkey. I eagerly accepted the assignment. My reporting date in Ankara was 7 July 1987.

Before leaving for Turkey, I was scheduled to go TDY [temporary duty] to attend a 4-month Turkish Language Course at the Defense Language Institute’s Foreign Language Center, located at the Presidio of Monterey, CA. There were six officers in my class: Cdr Fritz Krafft, USN; Maj Memory Holland, USA; Maj Bruce Bailey, USA; Maj Tim Holman, USAF; Captain Rick Spencer, USAF; and myself. We were all enroute to Ankara, and all of us except Cdr Krafft would be working in the JUSMMAT building.

At Monterey, the head of the Turkish Department was Mr. Safa Cicin. The main instructor for our class was Cumhur Dirgin. Other instructors in our class were Ulviye-Hanim and Sait-Bey. As part of the curriculum we were required to learn about foods, ordering meals in restaurants, etc. The beautiful outdoor restaurant “Nepentha,” about 40 miles south of the Presidio on Highway 1, was a popular place for a Friday afternoon language lab!