By Jim Brakebill

© 2003-2011 by Author

Photos: (top) A shot inside the Air Force bay of the barracks we were in.
(bottom) Inside the NCO Club, which was open evenings-only and was well attended.

Det 121 at Çakmakli was a small unit of 6 to 8 Air Force enlisted men in 12 month “remote” assignments. I was there in 1966 and 1967. We manned an HF radio network and a newly installed microwave site. We supported communications for a US Army unit of about 250 men, all in the middle of a Turkish Army compound about 35 miles north of Istanbul. The HF net had stations in England, Europe, Africa, Greece, and Turkey and was manned 24 hours a day with radio checks every ˝ hour. The tropo sites were on the same net. Our support unit was in Istanbul. We did not wear uniforms when in Istanbul."

The barracks at Çakmakli had cold running water in the sinks only. Somebody before us had set up a 55 gallon barrel overhead in the latrine. It had a shower head attached to the bottom, a garden hose going in the top to fill it, and an electric heating element that plugged into an extension cord. You filled the barrel, plugged in the heater, and waited a couple of hours, hoping somebody hadn't used all of the hot water before you got back. There were also big metal water pitchers to flush the toilets. You'd fill them at the sink and pour, quickly, down the throne.

Power to the People!

The Turkish Army operated generators that provided our power. When they needed to bring another generator online, they would just shut one off and start the other one. You never knew when that was going to happen, or for how long the power would be be off; but the worst part was that the voltage would not be regulated when the power came back on. It might be 50 volts or 300! So, there was a mad dash to unplug electronic and electrical items when the power went off, to protect them until the power stabilized. In the radio shack, we had cutoff switches on the High Frequency gear and power meters in the console. We'd hit the switches then grab a flashlight to watch the meters until the power stabilized enough to risk going back online. Even with the precautions, they still managed to fry our equipment a few times while I was there. I guess that is why all of the "operators" were actually highly trained electronic technicians. We had spent almost one year in tech school learning to maintain and repair the highest level of communications equipment, then were assigned to a duty station as radio "operators" on basically civilian "ham" radio equipment (Collins KWM-2A's, as I recall, with a few extra crystals for our frequencies). At night, when traffic was slow on the net, we could tune one of the spare transceivers to ham frequencies and listen to skip traffic from the states to stay awake.

Driving a Hard Bargain

One of the first things we were told, before going to "town" - Istanbul - was to never pay the price that was asked for anything. As I understood, the culture is based on bargaining and it is an insult to pay the first asking price. Anyway, in Istanbul, everybody said you had to go to the Grand Bazaar, a completely covered series of buildings that seemed to span many blocks. The aisles between tiny stores were like a maze, and although I was there several times, I'm sure I didn't see them all. Walking into any store, you were warmly greeted, then given a small cup of strong, hot tea. The shop owners treated you like a King, whether you were "just looking" or actually buying something.

A Little Extra Always Helps

I was only 18 and sending all of my paychecks home, so I wasn't a buyer most of the time. Off duty, I ran the projectors at the post movie house for $14 a week, so I had some spending money. Cigarettes were $1.80 a carton, so, around Christmas, I had a little cash and decided to send a few things home. I remember buying carved Meerschaum pipes for Dad and Granddad. The final price was quite a bit less than half the initial asking price, even though the Turkish custom of "dickering" was and is against my nature.

Doing the Shopkeeper Tango

In the month before my tour was over, I decided to buy a leather coat. There was a huge tannery just outside the old city walls of Istanbul, and the stench was bad just driving past. Anyway, some of the guys had bought leather jackets at the Bazaar and they were as soft as a baby blanket and you could not force them to wrinkle, no matter what. Well, I went into one of the larger leather shops, went through the greetings and the tea, then the shopkeeper started trying jackets on me. I'm a little over 6'1" and wear 35" sleeves (knuckles almost drag the ground). The poor man didn't have anything in the shop that hit me much past my elbows. So, he started running to other shops and bringing back more jackets to try. Seems like he made a dozen or more trips and was determined to find something that fit me. I was so embarrassed that he would work so hard. I bought one that was a little wide in the shoulders and still a little short in the sleeves. It was as close as he was going to get. It fit my Dad pretty well when I got home.

Something Good in the Air

The first Super Bowl game was played the year I was in Çakmakli. A new microwave system had been installed in another shack, on a hill above the compound. Somebody in England picked up the game and put it on the "order wire", one of the maintenance channels of the system. We patched that into a spare pair of wires to the Army Headquarters, then we strung wires to the jukebox in the NCO Club. We were in man heaven that day!

Where would we have been without Pan-Am?
Click Photo at Right to Enlarge.

As to how we got there and back: Pan-Am commercial flights. We sometimes drove by the Pan-Am building in Istanbul whenever we were enroute to our Air Force HQ. It was a thing of beauty and brought a tear to our eyes. All Praise Pan-Am.

Photos of the Cakmakli Base Area

               (Click Photos to Enlarge)

Entrance to the NCO Club.


One of the office buildings housing the Air Force communications room.


A view of the back of barracks row (the tin sided buildings on the left were the NCO Club, a movie theater, an Army supply room, a little PX and a barbershop, etc.).


The Mess Hall.

View down toward the BOQ.


Between the barracks looking toward the end of the Mess Hall and Turkish generator building (or was it the Army Motor Pool?)


View from the microwave shack.


Road from Cakmakli to Istanbul


Another view on the road from Cakmakli to Istanbul


Village a few miles east of our compound.


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