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Life at Malatya Tropo

Jack Selig

© 2009-2011 by Author

My experience with Malatya tropo, Turkey began at Sheppard Air Force Base, a few miles northeast of Wichita Falls, Texas. My orders were for TUSLOG Detachment 179 APO New York 09051. What was an “Isolated, Remote” tour of duty anyway? In March of 1970 I was about to find out.

In brief – Det-179 was a far flung outpost in the Eastern region of Turkey, our NATO (predominately Muslim) ally. Rugged terrain, paved by dangerously curved mountain roads and about a 16-man staff who hated being there. Welcome to Malatya tropo - (Tropospheric Scatter is a method of transmitting and receiving long-distance signals by bouncing them off the Troposphere in order to combat shadowing caused by the earth's roundness). By the way: don’t stand in front of the giant reflector screens for very long or you will become sterile, if not have something important fall right off! It was enough warning for me to avoid prolonged visits beyond the fence perimeter.

I quickly knew I was in deep space shit; knew that this was my alternative to a tour in VIETNAM. I was lean and green and still 18 years old. I really wanted to do well in the Air Force. I had been a yellow rope in technical school for Electrical Power Production and the class leader for highest grades. Having been an English major in high school but because of the draft - and advice to avoid the draft - this enlistment for four years was to me, salvation. With all success, though, there is usually a price. I thought I’d already paid it by surviving basic and tech school, but I was wrong. The real test was about to come.

The Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of power plant operations was on his third tour of duty there, a master sergeant with a nasty disposition who told me we were not there to be tourists. Well, there was nothing there but sky, mountains, goats, donkeys and Turks. Nothing else. What tourism? And that was a positive note. Imagine a prison-like setting where you were tucked inside a three-quarter-mile perimeter fence working three swings, followed by three mids, followed by three days and nowhere to go and nothing to do.

I learned enough Turkish by hanging out with the Turkish Tumpane Company workers that I was able to hitchhike out to local villages to at least get by and survive as a “tourist” - as the insaniac boss called it. The Turkish workers were very nice to us and would occasionally go with us as guides and interpreters.

I fished the mountain streams for rainbow trout. When we actually got "R & R" offsite we would go to İncirlik or to Diyarbakir Air bases and they were like heaven compared to where we were stationed. There was a small airfield in the valley called Erhaç ("air hahtch") from which we would receive mail and supplies by C130 cargo lift. Mostly, those stationed there were air police/security troops.

When I was able to take leave, I traveled from İncirlik to Torrejon (Spain) and then caught a KC-135 tanker on a 12 hour flight to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. What a struggle. After a two week leave I headed back to Dover AFB, Delaware via MAC flight (now called Air Mobility Command or AMC flights) and got stranded! So I paid for a commercial ticket to get to JFK and on to Torrejon Air Force Base, Madrid, Spain. There I could not get a MAC flight out to Turkey and, thereby, save my puny two-striper life.

I turned myself in to Air Police as I was out of leave time – no money to get a commercial flight into Adana, Turkey either. Spent two weeks officially AWOL until the MP’s allowed me to board a C130 with a TDY group going on training to İncirlik. Needless to say when my old base commander, a captain, and the new base commander, a captain, met me – they were not happy!

We drove the 250 miles thru the Taurus mountains back to Malatya tropo where I faced Master Sergeant Insanasylum, who lambasted my sorry ass for not returning to the hill promptly. Somewhere, I have a photo of myself in the engine room (four 350 KW White Superior power generators) smiling thru the glass door with a sign that says: "45 days short!"

I climbed Nimrut Dag and survived many bouts of stomach bacterial infections from drinking the local water and eating the fruit. I visited the “Karahnies” a couple of times and surprised my young self at how much it meant to me then – some sense of salvation in a very lonely, isolated world. I went on to get a college degree, work for IBM – marry a cheerleader, be a police officer, and have spent the last 20 years working for the Veterans Administration in a medical setting as an administrative assistant.

There’s more to this story but I’ve maintained a wild and romantic lifestyle reminding myself not to lose any more time like what happened to me in Turkey.

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