My Turkish Adventure
Izmir 1977-1978

Greg Natsch, TSgt USAF (Ret.)

© 2003-2011 by Author

My Turkish adventure started in March 1976. The Air Force canceled my orders to Alaska, so I went to CBPO and on a "whim" put down Turkey as my next choice. I never gave it another thought.

In November of 1976, I had just gotten my acceptance to work in the emergency room at Keesler AFB, effective 1 January 1977. My dream come true. Just after that, I got orders for a 15 month tour to some place called TUSLOG DET. 119. Personnel said information was classified, but I checked out the clinic in our worldwide directory of medical facilities.

On the first or second of March 1977, my buddy Frank Hanson and I left JFK on Pan Am for Turkey. Frank was going to Ankara. We drank at JFK, onboard, and finished the morning with beer and eggs in Frankfurt. We were both about 20, and on the Grand Adventure.


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Kordon Hotel and area, 1977

On the flight to Istanbul two airmen in blues were seated behind us. The plane stopped-over in Belgrade for what seemed like an eternity and we passed the time by telling the Slick-Sleeve airmen (E-1's) we were on the plane with that we couldn't leave the plane because of the Russian guards and because the two Slick-Sleeves were in uniform. It was a hoot watching them strip off their blouses, ties and bus driver hats and quickly stash them in their carry-on baggage.

Frank and I said our parting goodbyes in Istanbul but would have further adventures together in the next 15 months.

I landed in Izmir the night of March 3, 1977. The Kordon Hotel was my home for the next couple of weeks. My sponsor met me at the hotel later that night and we walked to the clinic about 10:00 pm. After being at Keesler for over 2 years, this was a change! What still haunts me is the smells. After experiencing certain smells today, I am swept back to Izmir and Turkey.

Finally, Izmir!

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My First Morning in Izmir (The Bay).

The morning after I arrived, I walked out on balcony and there was the magnificent bay. I was now immersed in Turkey. Living in the hotel was the launch pad for my life in Izmir. Too many troops were living in the "animal pit" downstairs and rarely left. But I got an apartment on Saire Esref and life took off from there. I couldn't spend the whole tour in a bar, so living on the economy gave me exposure to not only more bars, but the whole country too.

I got a wakeup call in April '77 when some car bombs went off outside the dental clinic. We were young and foolish and lived like we were immortal. We knew the risks, but took more. We moved freely and traveled throughout the country. Work was "serious" time, off duty was one big party and tour. We ate good, walked everywhere, drank. We lived like there was no tomorrow. You can't give young men lots of money and not expect them to live life to the fullest. I always had 2 cameras with me. I shot so many slides and B&W prints that when I did come home, I had a great album!

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Saire Esref at night

Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Izmir - primitive by any standards.

 The Mosque up the street.
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At the Virgin Mary's
home in Ephesus

We went to Çesme, Kusadasi, and Ephesus. We lived on the beaches and in the resorts. We made friends everywhere we went. None of us were the "Ugly Americans". We took the role of ambassadors of our country to heart. We had Turkish friends, both male and female. Our drivers at the clinic helped us with appliances, purchases and became our friends too.

I had a fruitful time at work. I had goals of being a paramedic, and realized that working at the clinic was the best training ground for me. I was exercising skills as a Senior Airman, EMT, that my high school friends wouldn't do for years later after they had graduated from medical schools. I learned leadership, skills proficiency, compassion, and a good sense of humor. The NCOs I worked for, and with, shaped my future career in the Air Force and civilian life. Little did I know that what I was taught in Izmir during that time would help after September 11, and my tours for Operation Noble Eagle and Operation Enduring Freedom.

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Buddy Frank (left) and I.

In the summer of '77 I visited Israel for a week. I saw all the sights:  Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Masada. Went by train to Tel Aviv and flew to Istanbul. From there I traveled by train to Ankara to see my buddy, Frank. We drove throughout the countryside and on to KARAMURSEL. Now that was where my gift of gab and BS came in. Not living on a base, I didn't have the same credentials Frank and the others had. So the Askeri (Turkish soldiers) would not let me on base. I finally explained I was a "Doctor" from the American Hospital in Izmir, so I gave him my Missouri drivers license and I was admitted, retrieving it on the way out the following morning. Quite the diplomat.

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Me in Istanbul

From KARAMURSEL, we drove to Yalova then took the ferry to Istanbul. I had wanted to visit there since I was a child reading history. We spent all day walking and taking pictures. Then at dusk, we again boarded the ferry at Galata Bridge for the ride back to Yalova and Karamursel.

During our travels in one small town, we met a cafe owner and his son, who we had never met, nor had they known many - if any - Americans. One of Frank's friends had the "new" Polaroid Land camera that automatically spit out color prints. A pack of film paid for our drinks and food. We made buddies again. Respect, politeness and a camera got us far, everywhere we went.

The only problem I ever had while in Turkey, was with certain of our command staff at the clinic, but shortly after I got there we had a sweeping staff change and life got measurably better. In 1994, I met one of our former lieutenants at Whiteman who was now a Light Colonel. I asked a nurse working with me, how many times he'd seen a LTC hug a Tech Sergeant!

In 1999 I was in Tech school at Lackland AFB - 25 years since basic training - and in line behind me at the shoppette was my buddy Ron, who had been the X-ray tech in Izmir back in '77! I took him to meet my wife and infant son who were waiting for me in the car. Funny how life is.

While in Turkey, I LIVED LIFE and worked hard. In January 1978, a plane crashed in the mountains outside Sinop. Due to a communications SNAFU, I was tasked with going on a search and rescue mission (SAR) with the Army. Our supply guy was former ParaRescue, and I was an EMT with lots of experience. The commander confused me with Jack and next thing I know I'm at Cigli, looking at a helicopter. The intercom conversation is classic:

Pilot - "Well, Sgt Natsch, I guess I don't have to explain how to use this equipment, do I?"- A winch, a forest penetrater, stokes basket and a horse collar.

ME - " Uhm, why is that, sir?"

Pilot - "You are the PJ who served in Vietnam aren't you?"

ME - "No, sir I'm not".

Pilot - "Well, it's too late to turn back. We'll tell you how to use it if we need to".

ME - "What kind of plane are we looking for?"

Pilot - "A green and white one".

ME - "But sir, It's all green and white out there."

Pilot - "Just look for a green and white plane in a black area"

Fortunately, the plane was found before we arrived, so, I spent the next week assuming the duties of an Independent duty tech to give the Army doctors a break. It was one of the coldest weeks in my life up to that point, and I lived in Missouri for 18 years...But that didn't match the Black Sea.

Wrapping It Up in Turkey

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My last 6 months was work and fun. Frank came to visit me for a week, but we can't discuss most of that time here! Not exactly family friendly. Suffice to say, we had a blast.

I had a girlfriend, Sultan. It would never have worked out for us. I couldn't stay, she couldn't leave. I wasn't ready to settle down.

Retirement and receiving Meritorious Service Medal, 2003.

I had my 21st and 22nd birthday in Izmir, then I left June 2, 1978 and flew to JFK then McGuire AFB, New Jersey for discharge. I was out from 1978 to 1983, returning to have a successful 20-plus-year career in the Reserves, serving in Desert Storm, Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom. I retired November 1, 2003 as a Security Forces Tech Sergeant.

I did become a Paramedic in 1980 after traveling around the South. I am still a Paramedic and currently the State EMS Training and Licensing Coordinator for the State of Missouri. My time in Izmir was the watershed event in my EMS career. I plan on retiring on my State of Missouri and Air Force pensions to Izmir and to live out my life as an expatriate there.