Erzurum, Turkey 1984-1985

Rick Moore

2003-2011 by Author

I got off the plane in my U.S. Army class A uniform, per my orders, and was immediately surrounded by Turkish soldiers. I was whisked away to a waiting van that, thankfully, had a waiting U.S Army Sargeant, in civies, who showed me his ID and welcomed me to Turkey.

Man, that should have been my first clue, but having grown up in the USAFSS all over the world in the '60's and '70's I thought nothing would phase me. Boy, was I in for a shock/treat. It didn't take long to get to The Otel inar but the sights along the drive reminded me a great deal of my 2 years in Crete in the mid '60's. Much the same landscape. The Hotel was pretty nice. I immediately noticed the extreme customer service but this was the first country I'd ever been in where all of the customer service personnel were men. Not a woman in sight. I quickly figured that one out and didn't ask about it until I got to Cakmakli the next morning.

Cakmakli: now that was the "Shock" I mentioned earlier. It was so wet, drab, gray and just down right dreary that it was like I had stepped off the bus and could hear the "Twilight Zone" music playing in the background. I mean I felt like I had just been transported back in time to the 1940's. Everything was old. Old architecture, old Army jeeps, old Army trucks, The signs identifying offices looked exactly like the ones my dad had taken pictures of in Formosa back in the late '50's. The buildings themselves appeared to be only slightly more modern, again, cinder block, painted gray, white, painted rocks lined the entrances to most offices.

I went to check in and to my surprise that didn't really take long and I was released to return to the Otel inar until the next morning when I had to be back for a week of "Turkish Headstart". 40 hours of classroom orientation on Turkish customs and basic Turkish language skills. That turned out to be both fun and interesting and prompted my later adventures throughout Turkey and many conversations with Turkish University students taking English classes at Ataturk Universitesi in Erzurum over the next year and a half. Now that was fun. I established many very good freinds there and for the first time in all my travels I really believe I got to "know" people from the country I was living in.

The plateau region of Turkey and the city of Erzurum.
Erzurum today, pop. 350,000

After completing the Headstart program I was flown out to Erzurum. 'Waayyyy out to Erzurum. Then I found out we were resupplied weekly by C-130s. That was a thrill. Believe me... growing up in the Air Force all over the world in the '60's and '70's you learn to love C-130's. And the crews. Heck, my brother was born on one!

Landing in Erzurum was a trip too. There were cloudy mountains with snow everywhere. I soon found out our detachment was actually in those mountains and for the most part... under that snow. We were surrounded by far more Turkish Army artillery pieces than I could count.

I'm out of time right now, so I think I'll post this and at least get one posting on the site for Erzurum. Maybe someone else will see it and post. I've posted more below.

Update from Rick 7/18/2008

Getting out of the airport in Erzurum wasn't really that big a deal because we were met by a few other U.S. Army personnel in civilian clothes carrying M16's and they seemed to get along with the Turkish Gendarmes. We didn't go through regular customs like everyone else we were taken through the military side. Much different, but I wouldn't find that out until I left a year and a half later.

We were taken to some old Jeep Cherokee's and loaded up and off we went. Our greeters were talking the whole way up to the Det. but to this day I can't remember a word they said, I was busy checking out the town of Erzurum as we drove through. Snow, everywhere, low cloud cover, just gloomy looking. Again, it was old, very old. More donkey carts then cars. Just like Crete back in the 60's. Again, that theme kept popping up. Small, tightly packed roads with lots of potholes, men walking together holding hands, (that really freaked me out), lots of shops and markets with lots of activity. The smell got me too. I got used to it over time but it bothered me at the beginning. As we got to the edge of town and started into the countryside the homes began changing.

Suddenly there were single story homes with big roughly brick looking fences around them and I'll be damned if there weren't sheep on the roofs of most of the homes. Didn't know what to make of that. I later learned that the fences where made of sheep manure and bricked by the kids and added to the fence year round. How's that for a childhood chore. As it got cold in the winter, they would break off a brick or two here and there and burn them in the stoves inside the home for heat. I thought I had seen poverty before but this was reaching new heights, even for me. Also learned that the sheep were put up on the roof every couple of days to graze because the poorer Turks grew grass on their roofs because the heat from the house kept it from freezing and they didn't have to pay as much to keep their sheep fed. Snow on roof, manure burned heat warms snow and melts it, melted snow waters grass on roof, sheep eats grass on roof. Ok, pretty ingenious I suppose. A man has to do what a man has to do. And ya gotta make do with whatcha got.

Started going farther up into the surrounding mountains and the town was getting smaller in the rear window. Thinking back now I remember wondering why there was no color anywhere to be seen. It was really drab looking, Turned north off the main, (still small), road and started seeing artillery everywhere. Mostly 105's with berms built around then. They were pointed northeast or east. Guess which directions Russia and Iran were?

Turkish soldiers manned the gates as they were responsibly for Det. Security. Didn't mean we were off the hook but they bore the brunt of the guard and patrol duties. The PKK had just started stirring up trouble so everyone on the site was on heightened alert. Everyone was armed. We stopped in front of the main building. It was on the left and the mess hall was on the right.

Can't remember all the S's the Army uses to describe different departments but they were all in that little building on the left. I hadn't eaten American food since lunch the day before so I was more interested in the mess hall at this point. Must happen to all newly arriving personnel as they took me to the mess hall first. Lunch had just finished and we got to eat as much as we wanted. Fried shrimp, mac and cheese, lima beans and coffee. That was a great treat. Met the cooks, all 4 of them. I noticed they had me sign the sign-in sheet on three separate sheets at that one lunch sitting. They explained that we had to sign for all three meals whether we ate or not because that's how they afforded the good food. They told me we would have steak and shrimp a lot but we had to sign. And we did, although the "having to sign in three times a day rule" varied a few times over the next year and a half it got in the way of a few trips to town but looking back, it made sense.

Went across the street and got checked in. Was led to my barracks room but couldn't really see enough around me to get myself oriented, the pathways had been cleared of snow and it was piled high everywhere. I saw the roof of the barracks and was led in, introduced to an old Turkish man they said would do laundry, although we had to pay him ourselves. Turns out he did quite a bit around there. And everyone gladly paid him every month. The man did a pretty good job. I remember thinking, "bet he doesn't burn sheep crap in his house".

I went to my room to discover two sets of bunk beds, Army metal style. And one wall lined with wall lockers, again, Army style, old grey, dented and banged up metal. I was pretty much left alone at that point so I found an empty locker and started unpacking and putting things up. Discovered two empty lockers so I figured I had two roommates, and I was right. I Met them later. One left soon after I got there so I can't remember his name but I'm going to look through some pictures I just recently rediscovered and that'll jog my memory. I especially want to remember this one guy because he blew our minds the very first time we laid eyes on him. I'm going to tell this story right here and now:

We came in at the end of the day once and saw a newly arrived duffle bag sitting on the empty bunks. We could smell cigar smoke. We looked around and couldn't find anything. I Started changing clothes and noticed the smoke was coming out of the empty locker. We opened it and there was this guy, sitting in the locker, drinking a beer and smoking a cigar. Right there, close to the top of the list of the damnedest things I've ever seen.

I'll just say he turned out to be one hell of a specimen, HAHA, but he was always entertaining.

Click Photos to Enlarge

A bunch of us off-duty have a good time reenacting the ole Van Halen classic Jump. L-R: Rick Moore (bottom), Jim Partica (top), Tim McCormack (bottom right) and cant remember the guy squatting behind Tim.


L-R: Rick Moore, Tim McCormack & Eric Combs


This, and below, general winter photos of base.



I was looking at a few [pictures] when I left the house this morning and remembered James Partica who is still cracking me up but now with email jokes; Eric Combs, Darren Smith, Tim McCormick, Sheboygan, (I can't remember his name but he was from Sheboygan, Michigan, and that's what he was called), Paris, TX., same thing with him. Lots of guys I came to really like. It was tough working and living on that Detachment, but it served a great purpose at the time. Kept the Soviets out of Turkey and, by extension, Europe. Sorta makes you hold your head a little higher as you go through life.

Most people today seem to have forgotten the cold war, but for those of us who were a part of it, serving in Turkey and throughout Europe, under harsh conditions, and far away from home, we had the pleasure of meeting the people who stood beside us in the effort. I will always hold the soldiers of the Turkish Army in the highest regard. Their service was much harsher than ours was, and most of them had no choice, but in my opinion, to have failed our mission, would have subjected generations of westerners to the same fate, only subject to Soviet rule.

I'm proud to have served with them. (The Next installment will be about the American and Turkish soldiers I served with in Turkey.)

Thanks, Rick Moore

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