INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
Defenders spend every waking moment standing watch, ready to defend the base at a moment’s notice. The weight of their weapons and gear can be overbearing at times causing physical stress on the body and their constant gaze on the horizon reminds us of their daily sacrifices.
They know that if the need arises, they stand ready to answer the call even in the midst of a global pandemic.
As the light crests the mountains surrounding Incirlik AB, Defenders ready their weapons and man their posts despite the chaos that consumes the world around them. They are referred to as the “Sheepdogs” of the 39th Security Forces Squadron, unceasing in their loyalty to the mission.
“Upholding the mission during the pandemic is a challenge that we work to overcome daily, but we absolutely have the right team in place to make sure our no-fail mission set continues,” said Lt. Col. Kevin McMahon, 39th SFS commander. “It’s finding the right balance between what is required, what is waiverable and where we can and cannot accept risk.”
The squadron’s main priority is to maintain the installation’s overall readiness and lethality. Their readiness and ability to respond to a myriad of contingencies, pandemics included, is critical to the 39th Air Base Wing’s mission.
“We have changed how we posture our personnel to continue our ability to provide safe and effective security,” McMahon continued. “We also put some protective measures in place for our personnel to eliminate potentially exposing first responders to COVID-19. We have been fortunate thus far and hope that the preventative measures we are enacting as a wing will keep our mission effective 24/7, 365.”
The strategic partnership between the United States and the host nation of Turkey is highlighted by the daily commitment of Defenders to continue the mission alongside their Turkish Air Force partners. As COVID-19 sweeps across the nation of Turkey and around the world both security teams remain unwavered in their efforts to ensure steadfast security at Incirlik AB.
“We are able to make minor tweaks and adjustments based on the solid relationship we’ve established with our counterparts,” McMahon explained. “The majority of our patrols continue as joint patrols, whether performing the security mission set or providing law enforcement. Our TurAF counterparts are taking this threat seriously, and we know that we are stronger together.”
While some personnel telework from home, every Defender is postured to respond should the alarm sound off to arm up and fight as rapidly and tactically as possible, McMahon added.
“What we posture for at Incirlik is Integrated Base Defense, which involves layers of security both inside and outside the fence line,” he said. “Should an enemy penetrate our perimeter fence line, they will be met with an overwhelming force capable of engaging and eliminating the threat with extreme prejudice.”
To ensure the security mission is not impeded by COVID-19, a group of Defenders are intentionally postured on the North side of base, named 3.9 North. These are posts that are manned solely by the U.S. Defenders.
“Essentially, it is a two-week mini-deployment alternating between two teams to maintain isolation,” McMahon said. “It is not a self-sustaining operation, but we have some great teammates from across the wing that have enabled us to do a portion of our mission set.”
Ensuring the mission continues while balancing the risk of the COVID-19 infection is no easy task and comes with its own set of stressors. However, the “Sheepdogs” of the 39 SFS are supported by a multitude of units from across the installation that provided them with the necessary amenities to ensure morale continues to remain high during these trying times.
“To keep our Defenders’ morale up, we give our Airmen what they need to improve their quality of life such as Wi-Fi and board games from the USO,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark Kegel, 39th SFS acting first sergeant. “The 39th Force Support Squadron ensures Defenders receive hot meals and that their mail is delivered directly to them. They are also given generous work-rest cycles that allow members the most time off possible.”
Although the conditions created by the pandemic are not ideal, McMahon promises to continue to support Defenders on individual issues and support their families across the world.
“It’s awesome to watch everyone from our youngest Defenders to our most experienced step up and lead,” McMahon said. “It’s a family... not of blood, but of badges and berets. It’s humbling to serve alongside all members of Team Titan. Our entire team is appreciative of all the efforts to get 3.9 North fully operational. Our team stays ready for whatever the next challenge is so we can adapt and overcome…to the last round.”