Visit highlights importance of Turkey, challenges ahead

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Pamela Derrow
  • USAFE command chief
I traveled recently to Turkey to see Airmen at Incirlik Air Base and Izmir Air Station, and I came away impressed with not only the quality of the Airmen we have in service to our nation, but also the importance of the mission they're doing with one of our most important allies. 

Turkey is a strategic bridge between the European and Asian continents. The country plays a unique role in translating and interpreting the interests and issues of both continents, not only to each other but to the U.S. It's also an important trading partner with countries in both regions. 

The relationship the U.S. Air Force maintains with its Turkish counterparts, and the work our Airmen perform at both Incirlik and Izmir, is critically important to the USAFE and NATO missions. In fact, I would go so far as to say the individuals living and working in Turkey are the tip of the spear when we talk about building relationships to train, exercise and operate together bilaterally and in an alliance. 

I witnessed U.S. Airmen, like SMSgt Jeffrey Clayton, TSgt John Haywood, and Benjamin W. McCullough (Combat Action Medal Awardee), working with their host nation partners at Incirlik to maintain a key mobility hub for strategic operations. I also saw American Airmen assigned to the 425th Air Base Group like Senior Master Sgt. Ben Roberson and Master Sgt. Debra Wright, working with their NATO joint and host nation teammates, like Senior Master Sgt. Ariel Laranang, and Master Sgt. Bonita Ques at Izmir. Together they worked to provide medical, legal, logistics, communications, security forces, morale, services, financial and engineering support to personnel assigned to Component Command Headquarters Air Izmir and tenant organizations. 

While these Airmen work at locations that can appear at times far and removed from the day-to-day business of the command, I can tell you firsthand that the men and women serving our nation in Turkey are doing great things that are noticed by leadership in USAFE and NATO. They are part of America's contribution to the security, peace and stability in the region. 

An assignment to Turkey is something most people will never get to experience, and those lucky enough to be stationed there should relish it. The Turkish people are wonderful hosts and eager to share their country with us. Much like any assignment to another country, it will give Airmen a new perspective on our own country because they will see it through the eyes of another culture, which is only possible if you live outside the United States. 

But, my trip also reinforced the challenges of working in a foreign country and living in a remote location. I should know because I did an assignment in the capital of Ankara in 1991. Those issues, as well as the challenges we're facing across the command, are easily overcome with a can-do attitude. 

During a meeting with Incirlik leadership and again during mentoring session with several NCOs and senior NCOs from Izmir, I had the opportunity to listen to the challenges they face. While they had concerns unique to serving in Turkey, many are similar to challenges faced by Airmen at all USAFE bases. 

I was able to provide insight and guidance from the USAFE leadership. Perhaps the most important take away from the sessions, and is applicable to everyone assigned to USAFE, is that we are in for some difficult financial times as a service and there will be impacts to resources in the future. 

We will overcome these issues through better use of the resources we have and, as General Brady says, a healthy dose of perspective. Every USAFE Airmen must understand that we've accepted a mission that must be done without fail. Leaders must lead and Airmen at all ranks must take the initiative to find the best ways to accomplish our mission. By following the Air Force Core Values and seeking to be the best Airman you can be, we will overcome any adversity or challenge. 

Thank you for what you do in the service of our nation. I'm proud to serve my country with each and every one of you.