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Balıkesir

Lee Garza

© 2012 by Author



My assignment to Turkey was not a surprise. I had requested an assignment from Fairchild AFB, in Spokane, Washington to the Netherlands but in order to get there, I had to do a remote tour of duty somewhere. I had been assigned to Fairchild after my first overseas remote to tour to Korea and had arrived in Spokane in February of 1977. After 2 years, my request was approved. I was assigned to Balikesir, Turkey , Detachment 184 with a follow on assignment to the 7362nd Munitions Support Squadron(MUNSS) in Volkel AB, the Netherlands.

I flew out of JFK in New York in mid June, 1979 and landed in Istanbul and spent the night with 3 other airman whose names and faces I do not recall. I knew it was going to be an interesting year, the hotel we stayed in that night had bullet holes in the entrance of the hotel. We did not venture out of the hotel that night. We flew out the next day on THY Airlines to İncirlik AB where we stayed two days in-processing. I do not recall going to the NCO club but I do recall the Base Exchange and spending some time at the base pool. I knew we were not going to have that luxury where I was going so I thoroughly enjoyed it and stayed and swam as long as I could.

Our C130 flight was uneventful to Izmir where we got our luggage and waited for someone from Balikesir to pick us up. A Sergeant from the 63-2 Communications Squadron picked us up (there were 3 of us, a 1st Lieutenant Baltus, a Security Police Sergeant and myself)in an Air Force pickup (4 door) and we were on our way. To make our trip to Balikesir more interesting, our driver took a wrong turn and we were lost. We ended up somewhere in the back roads of some Turkish towns and attempted to get directions but without any knowledge of Turkish and the limited English of the Turkish folks around us, we were definitely lost.

We ran into a Turkish Army armored unit doing field exercises and were able to get directions to the main highway leading to Balikesir. The fun wasnít over yet. When we finally got to our Detachment area, we stowed our gear in our barracks area and were instructed to visit our personnel NCO and visit with our Detachment commander. Our barracks were across and above the commanderís office, mess hall and other administrative offices. There was a short walk across an open concrete area and the lieutenant and I had made it across but our SP Sergeant was a bit late and behind us. There was a screech of tires and a Turkish Security detail jumped out of a truck and stopped the SP in his tracks. They ordered the SP to lie down, hands behind his back and proceeded to immobilize and search him. Those assault rifles looked pretty big and we did not argue with these Askers (Turkish conscripts). (I would end up staring at the muzzle of one of those assault rifles later that year during a hostage rescue exercise). After a call to our security NCO, our newbie was let go and we proceeded to see our detachment commander. What a way to start our tour of duty!

Life in the Weapons Storage Area(WSA)

Here is a bit on the business of keeping the NATO mission of nuclear deterrence: I cannot remember how many weapons maintenance technicians were assigned with me at Balikesir. I recall 3 names and 5 faces but I know there were more of us. We required a team of a least 3 to do the maintenance on the assigned weapons and if I recall, the cycle of maintenance required was sparse the year I was there.

I do recall being involved in 1 or 2 operations. We trained on technical operations often as some of us rotated in and out of country so we were constantly training to keep everyone certified. I was NCOIC of Munitons Control. I was in charge of me! Since there werenít that many of us, we were all qualified (all except our NCOIC) to do the maintenance on assigned weapons. Munitions Control tracked all maintenance required and made sure our publications and regulations were up to date. I even rewrote of couple of our local Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs). We spent our time training on our technical operations to make sure we kept our qualifications and we had mock Emergency Destruct of Munitions (EDM) operations monthly. Losing control to anyone of one of our weapons was not an option so we had contingency plans to prevent that. We were augmented by everyone from the detachment(except by the 63-2 guys) to do the EDM. It was a team effort.

Our other munitions personnel was a team of Weapons Loaders that supervised the loading of dummy weapons to Turkish Air Force F104 Star Fighters. The inert weapons were loaded by Turkish Munitions teams with our guys closely watching that all safety procedures were adhered to. They practiced often as each load team had to be certified to load the real weapons . Our load teams were the guys that had the most contact with our Turkish munitions teams. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the faces and names of our load team. Hopefully, someone will read this and provide some information on these guys.

Our Security Police(SP) force provided inside security for the WSA as well as patrolling the detachments area of responsibility(command post) throughout the Turkish air base. They patrolled the area 24-7 and 365 days a year. They worked closely with the Turkish security forces that protected the perimeter of the WSA and the air base. Iím sure Iíve forgotten some of the more memorable moments of my stay at Detachment 184 but I do remember the Turkish base commander asking our detachment commander if were at war with Iran after the Iranians had stormed our embassy in Iran in November. My recollection was they the Turkish military had a small skirmish with the Iranians on the border soon after this incident.

Detachment Area

 

Left: Awards Ceremony. Unknown civilian, TSgt Hurst, Me, Major General Burns, TUSLOG Commander.
Right: Me and unknown SP Lieutenant in front of the "Teardrop Tavern," our consolidated open mess.

I can truly say that the best food I ever had at an Air Force mess hall was while I was at Balikesir. The Turkish gentlemen that cooked for us at the detachment cooked some very good food. They had their way of cooking making everything very edible. Iíll always remember a fruit(cross between a honey dew and cantaloupe) that was very tasty. Couldnít eat enough of that!

One of my favorite places on the detachment area was the ďmusicĒ room. It had shelves of albums and Iíd put the headphones on and listen to some very good tunes ( Steppenwolf, the Doors etc..etc.) It was a good place to go and think a bit about home. Another form of entertainment that kept me occupied was the 2 lane bowling alley. We had to get volunteers to manually set the pins from behind the pins(we payed them, a bit extra cash was always welcome).

I bowled a 247 there probably because the lanes were grooved and I happened to get lucky and find the ďgrooveí. We ended up having some good matches and lots of fun bowling. After a few beers, it seems that you really didnít care how well you did! Our Detachment also had a softball team. We had ďfriendlyĒ games against the other TUSLOG detachments and we has some pretty good talent. I remember our big stick (he could hit the ball a mile) was from the 63-2 Communications Squadron and he always came through with a couple of home runs a game. Unfortunately he had his nose broken when attempting to tag someone out at 2nd base while playing the Eskishir team. We travelled to Izmir for a tournament without his services. We came home early but had a great time.

Of course nothing would beat the Teardrop Tavern, our consolidated open mess. We had off duty GIs working as bartenders and good stereo system hooked up(thanks to the comm guys Iím sure). I remember listening to the Marshall Tucker Band a lot. The bell would be rung, a couple of beers later ( or some other concoction) and things would liven up a bit. Every once in a while, a good poker game would be going that would always liven things up.

For Christmas of 1979, we hosted some the kids from the orphanage (shown at left) and shared some goodies and a few things with them. It was the nearest thing to being home for some of the married guys that had families back home. The kids really enjoyed their time there and Iím sure our guys did too.

I visited the orphanage during the year but stopped going after awhile. I didnít have the heart to see these kids and not be able to do anything about helping. I did find out later that a couple of our men did start the process to adopt some of the kids, but I wasnít stationed there long enough to find out if all went well.

 

New Years Eve 1980 was one that I will always remember and Iím sure John Hurst will too! The detachment first sergeant was costumed as "old father time" and John was the "baby new year!" It was a memorable time spent at the Tear Drop Tavern. The Christmas holidays were probably the toughest for the married guys, so we tried to keep busy and be creative to keep every one's spirits up and I think we succeeded.

Off Duty time.

I moved off and bunked with the 63-2 Communication Squadrons guys downtown in the leased apartments for about half of my time at Balikesir. I remember riding in a bus with wire mesh on the windows and an armed guard. It was routine going in to the base in the morning and busing downtown in the evening. I remember 2 roommates, TSgt John Hurst and Sgt Sheedy. We had a good time in our apartment . We even had some Canadian visitors as John mentioned in the previous article. Tuborg and Efes beer was consumed in our apartment and the local fresh bread was delicious when purchased fresh and eaten with butter and honey. I do recall listening to praying and the loud speakers that were in town. I enjoyed the cuisine that included lots of lamb, eggplant and veggies and olive oil and olives. Superb! I frequented a small cafť that made the great "Turkish pizza" called Lahmacun "lahma-joon." It was delicious!

At left I'm shopping in Bursa with Sgt. Jim "Orca" Wharton. My memories of taking trips to Bursa to shop at the outdoor markets include lots of walking and looking at all the brass and rugs in the shops. So much to look at, but I did buy one rug and always a bag of fistikler (pistachios!) Some of the guys at the detachment went crazy buying brass goods, shipping boxes of brass home to their parents, friends and significant others. Gold chains were another prize to be sent home in quantity.

One of our favorite places was Altin Camp. The link shows what it looks like now, but it wasnít as well known back then. We spent weekends there enjoying the sunny beach and often ran into bus tours of German and Dutch tourists. The scenery was great! I remember lying on the beach listening to the Steve Miller band and the Eagles on my boom box and after a short snooze, finding myself surrounded by Dutch tourists enjoying my music. That was cool! We had a great time there. We threw Frisbees out in the warm, shallow water, where we could go out quite a way, and yet the water would barely reach our knees. It was really a very pleasant place to spend the weekend!

 

Lt. Col. Tiegan, Detachment Commander and unknown airmen and
Canadians. TSgt Fisher, Weapons Maintenance, standing.

When we had time to travel and see the country, we took advantage of every opportunity. One of the most memorable trips for me was when we visited the ancient city of Ephesus. If you are a history buff, Turkey is a goldmine! I could only imagine what it was like to walk the marble streets of Ephesus in ancient times. It was an eye opener for me, in 1979, to view 5,000 years of human history. My year at TUSLOG Detachment 184 was a memorable one. Some of my fondest memories of my 20 year career in the United States Air Force are from that year I was in Balikesir. I enjoyed the culture that was so different from anything I was accustomed to. The people and the history of Turkey were amazing to a small-town guy from Wyoming. The experience is still with me, and will always be.

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