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Balikesir, Turkey 1979-1980

John W. Hurst

© 2007-2011 by Author

Click photos to enlarge.
That's me seated on far left with beer! Seated: John Hurst (Radio Maint); Orca (Supply Clerk); Lee Garza (SP); Jan (Canadian visitor)

Click photos to enlarge.

Det 63-2 - circa 1979



I was assigned to Det 63-2 as a Communications Radio Repairman from Jun 1979 - Jun 1980.

In 1979, Balikesir had approximately 90 personnel; 40 were SPs, 20 were munitions, and 25 were Comm Det 63-2.

Balikesir was my third overseas assignment, and though I had heard many stories about Turkey; none were flattering. I left via JFK International Airport near New York City; we had a short stop in Germany, then again in Athens, and on to Ankara, Turkey. The next day, I flew into İnçirlik, for 1 week of in-processing. Other than the NCO Club and the pool, there didn't seem to be much happening at the 'lik. You were not encouraged to go off base. After a week, I boarded the C130 shuttle, off to Balikesir. Once a week the C130 shuttle went clockwise (İnçirlik, Izmir, Balikesir, Eskishir, Erhac (Ankara), then back to İnçirlik). It took several hrs to get to Balikesir; riding sideways in a C130 is a story in itself!

Our USAF compound was right in the middle of a Turkish base. We had a nuclear Weapons Storage Area (WSA), a central compound with admin, mail, chow hall, officer quarters, dispensary, etc. Up the hill was the radio site. We had an 80 mile tropo shot to Yamalar, a mountain top site about 20 miles out of Izmir. We jokingly referred to our shot as a 'line of blast', as the radios were designed to reach out to 750 miles! To keep tabs on the nuclear weapon site security, we performed hourly radio checks on the 'Cemetery Net' run out of Germany (or Greece).

As facilities went, Balikesir was about average. We had the basics, and fortunately Detachment 63-2 was not part of the NATO effort, so we did not have to live in NATO dorms. All Detachment 63-2 guys lived in apartments off base! We had five or six apartments, with four to five men per apartment. This seemed like a perk at the time, except that hot water, heat, and even electricity were rationed. You learned not to take the elevator as a power outage mid-trip could last all night! Nevertheless, we did have a lot more freedom than the on-base dorm rats, so it was pretty cool.

We got a much better picture of Turkish life by living downtown: the bazaars, the restaurants, çay (Turkish tea) houses, fresh fruit, pistachios, and ekmek (bread) were great experiences. Security was a minor concern though we always went out in groups of two or more. Shopping was always an adventure. We found a Turkish military Base Exchange (not much of a bargain). The open market was truly amazing. You could buy just about anything (except pork!). We had a shuttle bus, complete with armed guard, every hour until midnight. Frequently, guys at the little on-base club would put in orders for hot pistachios or ekmek on the next bus run - it was great.

For R&R, we went to Izmir. We'd stay at the Kordon Hotel, make a BX/package store run and pick up the mail. Izmir was a bustling city with many nighttime activities! We also would make runs to Altin camp, right on the Aegean coast - about 50 miles north of Izmir. This place was packed with European tourist all summer long.


Enjoying a 'BBQ' with Canadian visitor. (Foreground: Cliff Jackson (Radio Maint); Jim Sheedy (Radio Maint); Unknown (SP)). Seated: Lee Garza (SP), Jan (Canadian Visitor); standing in middle - John Hurst (Radio Maint)


Balikesir 'Olympic' Swimming Pool - circa 1979

The funniest story during my time at Balikesir involved a chance encounter downtown. Off duty and looking for lunch one day, we found a pizza joint. Turns out it was owned and operated by a Swedish woman who was married to a Turk. The pizza was European style, but at least they served Tuborg beer! On our second visit, we noted a couple of European women eating lunch, so we struck up a conversation! One was Canadian (Jan), the other German (Petra), and they both lived just outside of Balikesir. Seems the Turks were in the 5th year of building a paper mill, and had sizable cost overruns; so in order to get more money from the World Bank, the Turks had to bring in a Canadian company to guarantee the remainder of the project. Jan and Petra's spouses were part of a team of 150 Canadian personnel on the outskirts of Balikesir. They of course knew of the Turkish Air Base, but were quite surprised to learn of the American presence in the area.

After a few invitations to their compound and our apartments, they asked if we had a club. Of course! Let's have a party! Our commander was uncertain at first, but with a little cajoling and approval from the Turkish base commander, we invited a busload of Canadians to come on base and party! What a riot! We had a fantastic time, great BBQ, and we re-christened our 3 ft deep swimming pool!

With no prior guidance, we didn't know how to handle their requests to buy cigarettes and booze; but the commander made a 'command' decision, and allowed a one time buy. Needless to say, they nearly bought us out of everything!


Touring Turkey with Alex & Petra - circa 1980 - note 'CDN' car decal

The Canadians were able to visit a few more times, but the Turkish base commander got cold feet and had security concerns, so it came to a close after a few months. We were able to vacation with the Canadians at Altin camp, and I did more tourist sightseeing with them than I ever would have as a lone GI - and they had a car! We saw Ephesus, Bursa, and all points in-between. Anyway, that's one of my better stories on Balikesir!


Typical Life at Balikesir (On Base)


Main Building at Balikesir in background: wing behind pool was Officers quarters; Trailer was either SPs or EOD? Building chimney was approximate location of chow hall. Main flightline in far background.

For a new guy getting off the C-130 shuttle, Balikesir was pretty sparse. The main compound consisted of a squadron headquarters type building, complete with orderly room, post office, chow hall, and officers' quarters.

In front of this main building were a few old trailers - Security Patrol shack, Base Exchange, and the medical clinic. Across a small mezzanine and up a slight hill were two NATO style dormitories. These were not anything like dormitories on regular Air Force bases; these were concrete, basic, small, hot in the summer, and cold in the winter.

There was another permanent building out the back of the NATO dorms and continuing up the hill - the recreation center. While this did have room for a pool table, movies, a weight training room, a sauna, and a music center, the equipment was minimal and nothing to brag about!




Tops-In-Blue Show, Balikesir - circa 1980. Stage was set-up on mezzanine between main building and NATO dorms; I believe the trailer in background was the SP Shack.

 

A1C Rich Tilton walking up Det 63-2 hill from recreation center in background.

Continuing up the hill, you would wind up at the communications site, TUSLOG Det 63-2. Like the rest of the compound, Det 63-2 was a combination of semi-permanent buildings (Power Plant and Communications Building), trailers and lean-tos. You could walk the entire compound in 5 minutes.


Up the hill from the NATO dorms and rec center; Det 63-2 Comm Bldg & 30' Antennas.

 

Det63-2 Power Production Plant - contained three 250KW diesel generators - 2 running at all times

 


Det 63-2 'Site Mascot' - in from of Power Plant; we found this puppy in a waste fuel pit and cleaned him up - name unknown!

The WSA was down the hill from the main compound, about 1 mile away. The only other work location was the Command Post, a 3 or 4 mile drive around the far end of the flight line. Because of the sensitive nature of the mission, I didn't get any pictures of that area! Next to the chow hall and post office, the main place to hang out was our Club.

Located just inside the main dorm entrance on the ground floor, the club was quaint and hard to pass up after a day's work. Membership dues were minimal, and we did manage to make a profit! Profits were used for monthly parties and sponsorship of a local orphanage. All bartenders were off duty GIs - only rule was that they couldn't drink while on the clock. We had a bell: ring it once to buy a round for everyone.


The 'Club' at Balikesir: Pictured - SMS Walter Knox; Orca (Bartender); Unknown (SP); Sgt Jim Sheedy; other two are unknown

 

Balikesir 'bartender' - Orca (don't remember his real name!).


Balikesir Orphanage: John Hurst on day trip to locally sponsored orphanage; note all the orange 'Fanta' drinks



Balikesir Club: Unknown (SP?) moving names on the Short Board

Although I only made a few trips to the local orphanage, it was always a humbling experience. We provided a few hundred dollars a month, mostly to cover basic food and clothing. The kids and staff were most grateful as we brought clothes, toys, drinks, and candy. The kids were shy at first, but they quickly warmed up when they got the toys! Many tears were shed when we had to leave.

Every new arrival had a name plate issued within the first day or two; you either entered your name or nickname (mine was Swamp Rat). The short board was the best way to know who was new, and who was about to leave! Anyone on the outside rows were rookies, with well over 6 months left on their tour. Those in the middle row were the veterans, with only a few months remaining.

It was always fun to move the names around, although there were some sharp words if you messed with someone else's nameplate!

Besides the short board, poker table and darts, we also had a TV, but not Armed Forces Network! Broadcast programs were taped shows shown on a 'schedule' posted above the TV. (The Det 63-2 guys 'broadcast' the shows via a local cable from the Communications Site to the club and recreation center). Typical shows: Charlie's Angels, Rockford Files, Happy Days, Three's Company, and Fantasy Island. By far, Saturday Night Live shows were the best and most often requested for rebroadcast.



Typical night at Balikesir's Club: SSgt Lee Garza (seated at left); unknown (Power Pro); Unknown (SP's?); John Hurst (seated at right).

 


Three Seasons Room: Balikesir cook - Sarki (nickname - Sharkie) - indoor BBQ pit in chow hall - circa 1979

In the spring of 1980, we decided to have a party to highlight the local Turkish liqueur - "Raki'. The Turks would mix Raki and water about 50/50, and chase it with plain water, to further cut the strength. On this particular night, I decided to give it a try - straight up. I started with a double shot; followed by another double a few minutes later. After 8-10 shots, I was getting wobbly, and within a half hour, had to be carried to the bus! A couple of guys 'escorted' me all the way downtown, to my apartment, up to my room, and made sure I went to bed! Later that night, I woke to the final evening Call to Prayer - bellowing out from the local mosque. My window was open, so I closed it, and I proceeded to lay back down face first into my pillow - except that I was sideways in the bed, and slammed my forehead into the steam radiator - ouch! I wound up with a cut right between the eyes- next day, I had two shiners and vowed to all the guys that "I won't be drinking Raki anymore!

We didn't get much in the way of entertainment, but Tops-In-Blue did stop and do a show in the spring of 1980. Besides the recreation center, we had a large room connected to the chow hall, sort of a three-seasons room for Barbequeing.

This room typically had two ping pong tables and the games were non-stop during and after lunch and dinner. This area also doubled as the local 'bazaar' and currency exchange location on payday. Our local translator, Hussein, would bring in a stack of rugs, meerschaum pipes, and other local memorabilia monthly; the rugs usually sold out. He once had some Russian made pocket watches; I bought one - but it never worked very well!


Touring Turkey with Alex & Petra - circa 1980 - note 'CDN' car decal

 

MSgt Cliff Jackson - my boss at Balikesir - circa 1980

As far as currency exchange, Turkey experienced hyper-inflation during the late 1970s - early '80s. In June, 1979, the exchange rate was 47 Turkish Lira (TL) to 1 US Dollar. By Nov 1979, the rate was 70 TL to 1 USD; by May '80, it was 100 TL to 1 USD. This was a boon to all the GIs buying Turkish goods (rugs, brass, paintings, etc.) - but very hard on the local Turks.

After a couple months of this confined living, most of the GIs would want to go 'downtown'. Balikesir was mostly a rural farm town. There were many restaurants, çay houses, a huge bus station, and several open markets for farmers and city dwellers to barter and exchange goods. But Balikesir was predominantly apartment buildings, with a few stores, restaurants, and markets interspersed.

All in all, life on the base was secure, predictable, and frankly, only as interesting as one made it! If you wanted to be alone, you could; if you wanted to drink, you could. Some people were into music, or weight training (like our boss - MSgt Cliff Jackson), and some took off duty educational courses (very limited University of Maryland selection!). But in the end, we all did mostly the same thing: we did 365 days at Balikesir! While visits to downtown Balikesir were not all that special, Izmir was a different story!

Life at Balikesir (Off Base to Izmir) 1979 - 1980


View from downtown Det 63-2 apartments - looking towards Balikesir AB

 

Typical Minaret in Balikesir - this one was right outside my off base apartment.

Trips to Izmir were a long 180 miles, but worth the trip. Izmir was a real city complete with all the sights and sounds you would expect in a cosmopolitan city. The city has a fantastic waterfront, complete with ferry service. Coming from Balikesir, the Kordon Hotel (all US Military stayed at the Kordon) was real luxury: hot water, fast food, comfortable beds, and a disco club on the roof!



Izmir waterfront, near the Kordon hotel - circa 1980

One could always find an excuse to go to Izmir; vehicles had to go in for maintenance; test equipment had to go in for calibration; people frequently had to go to the hospital for treatment or tests; or the best catchall: our Club supplies were running low and we needed to re-stock! No matter the reason, the run to Izmir was chance to see western Turkey.

Travel was via two lane rural highway (east/west) that ran fairly straight from Balikesir 40 miles to the Burhaniye on the coast, then a north-south road would take us the last 140 miles into Izmir. We would sometimes stop about halfway in Ayvalik, a sleepy little fishing village. We scouted out a local seafood restaurant, and would order the catch of the day. Passing Cigli Air Base on the way into Izmir, we'd sometimes stop to drop off a package that had to be on the next C-130 shuttle.



Typical seaside reastaurant in Ayvalik - roughly half way between Balikesir and Izmir.

Lee Garza and unknown friend (I think he was Weapons guy) seaside at Ayvalik

The countryside around Balikesir was 'agriculturally' challenged, as it was very dense with rocks. There were a few olive groves here and there, but mostly, it was the domain of shepherds and their flocks of sheep. Approaching the coast, olive and fruit groves were common. If you were in a military vehicle (bus, truck, ambulance, etc.) - you mostly got the cold stare; our presence in Turkey was largely unknown in the rural areas. On occasion, you could see an olive harvest, complete with straw mats, long poles, and two wheel donkey carts. The harvest was simple: lay out mats below the trees, thrash the limbs of raw olives, roll up the mats, and pour into the cart; a process that appeared to be unchanged over centuries!

On a few rare occasions, we would make the trip to Izmir on a Turkish bus. The cost was minimal, the trip a bit longer as they stopped in every village, but riding the "otobus" was well worth the sites, sounds, and stories! On one particular trip, I saw three or four very young girls - 10 - 12 yrs old who got on the bus along with their mother. All were dressed in traditional head to toe garb, which was the norm. The striking things were their hands: one girl had red hands, one had green, one had brown, and one had purple/blue. I guess they saw us staring, and quickly pulled down their sleeves. A few towns later, they all left the bus in another small town; a Turkish passenger leaned over and commented "their hands are stained with natural dyes - they make carpets". We had no idea, but it sure made sense after he explained it! It would have been nice to get a picture, but that is another story.



Not the norm in Balikesir! Photographing young kids at play in Balikesir

My experience was that the farther you went West in Turkey, the more it was like Europe; and the reverse was true as well: as you went East, the more conservative and traditional the atmosphere.

Photography was an excellent example of this phenomenon. In Balikesir, you could not take photos out of your apartment window - as it appeared you were 'spying'. We saw may cranes nesting on chimney tops, a peculiar view worth a picture - but you wouldn't want the Turks to see you taking that picture! It was also frowned upon to photograph people on the street, at the market, or in a restaurant, as that was a taboo - Turks believe that a photograph captures their spirit (soul)! Of course this was not the case everywhere, such as when we visited the orphanage. Likewise, there were no problems taking pictures anywhere in Izmir; it was never a hassle.

Exploring Izmir was an adventure! There was no traiditional base to speak of; a Base Exchange, a snack bar and a package store tucked away on one street, the hospital in another area, motor-pool in yet another area, it took a few trips just to figure out the essential locations! On one of the later trips to Izmir I had a chance encounter at the snack bar, discovering an old teenage best friend I hadn't seen in 10 years! What are the odds?


Trip to Izmir bonus: Finding my good friend George (Butch) Morton after 10 years!


George (Butch) Morton and John Hurst - chance meeting of long lost friend in Izmir, Turkey - circa 1980.

George (Butch) Morton moved from Chicago to New Orleans in 1967 with his parents, two brothers and a sister. Butch and I were inseparable - until Feb 1970 - when I enlisted in the Air Force; he in the Army.

As teenagers, we roamed New Orleans East (an area that was completely wiped out by Hurricane Katrina) - and did just about everything together. Imagine my surprise, 10 years later while eating a hamburger in the Izmir snack bar across the street from the BX. I saw this guy who looked oddly familiar. I finally got the courage to go up to him and ask if he was from New Orleans; he said yes; then I asked "are you Butch Morton?" Yes! And the reunion was something to see! We had a wonderful - but short lived reunion, as I lost track of him when I left Turkey. (Butch - if you read this - we can certainly catch up again - send me an email!).

Besides Izmir, a few of us ventured to other locations: namely, Bursa. Known for its huge bazaar, we got our regular bus driver to take a group of us to Bursa on a one day field trip. We were not disappointed: the Bursa bazaar seemed to go on for blocks, maybe even a mile! We strolled through multiple sections: one for rugs; one for brass, one for nuts; one for gold; one for meerschaum pipes; and one for linens and clothes. The smells and sounds were indelible.


On the bus to Bursa: A1C Tilton, foreground; SMSgt Knox, center; our bus driver - Nevzed?


Inside one of the many Bursa bazaars

Yet another avenue for seeing Turkey came via the Canadians I mentioned in an earlier article. With my host, Alex and Petra, I saw Roman aqueducts; The Roman amphitheater at Ephesus, and who knows what else! Although I took many pictures, I had no historical background, so I had no idea of the significance. As a young, naïve GI, historic areas looked mostly like semi-organized piles of rubble. Someday, I will have to return, as I now have a wife, and enough education and appreciation of culture to explain it all!

Traveling around western Turkey was a positive experience. Having had two previous tours in the Far East, the Turks were not as eager as eastern Asians to engage Americans, but one-on-one the Turks are quite personable and very interesting. I could tell that Turks are fiercely proud of their culture and heritage, and rightfully so. I would visit Turkey again - especially Izmir and the Ephesus ruins!

In the next story on Balikesir, I'll highlight our mission.


A typical mosque - Bursa shopping trip - circa 1980


Touring Ephesus - circa 1980 - Unknown (Weapons guy) and SSgt Lee Garza



The Mission - Balikesir 1979 - 1980

There are many websites that chronicle the background and mission of the Munitions Support Squadrons MUNSS Geographically Separated Units (GSUs) in Turkey during the 1970s.
(see www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/agency/usafe-munss.htm).

My understanding of the Det 63-2 mission in 1979 was simple: provide a primary and secondary communications link to allow periodic verification that all was well and secure at Balikesir AB. The Command Post (CP) was one of two verification points; the HF radio network was the secondary point.

HF radio tower in background

The large contingent of Security Police provided round-the-clock coverage of the Weapons Storage Area - or WSA. The WSA consisted of several bunkers, each with a hardened vault door. Surrounding the WSA were several barriers, fences, motion sensors, further surrounded by a Turkish security force.

I only made a few visits to the WSA, once to repair a couple of field phones used between outpost bunkers, and once to troubleshoot an Entry Access Point (EAP) lock that was stuck! My perception was that no one was going to hijack anything without a lot of lead flying.


Yamalar radio relay site; appx. 20 miles NW of Izmir - this was the other end of the Balikesir tropo link

Our dedicated tropo radio link to Yamalar was part of the overall 486L system. Our CP was connected to NATO Command HQs via a dedicated voice/data channel. Once per hour the Command Post was 'polled' by a central location to verify local (Balikesir) security status. If all was okay, an affirmative response was sent; if security of the WSA was compromised, a 'duress' message was sent.

In a very similar manner, we operated a site security status check. Our HF radios (KWM2As - three tuned to difference frequencies to ensure reception) operated on the European 'Cemetery Net' (see: http://www.usarmygermany.com/Units/Signal/USAREUR_2ndSigBde.htm).

Like the Command Post, our High Frequency radio checks were performed every hour, but at random times. Each location had a designated location code; from our pre-printed crypto pads, we would respond with the appropriate code when our station was polled. If we gave an incorrect response, we were considered to be under 'duress'. A follow up check of several stations, include the duress station would verify a true duress from a screw up. Screw ups were not uncommon, but would result in decertification and assignment to 'less than desirable job'. I only duressed once in my year at Balikesir; just a case of sleepy eyes!

Our main communications link radios were of 1950s tube type technology. The AN/FRC-39 Radios were behemoths. The high power, water cooled transmitters were capable of 10KW continuous output, but due to the very short link (less than 100 miles), we routinely kept them at 3KW or less. Our transmitter pre-amplifiers and receivers were all vacuum tube technology, requiring constant maintenance.

In addition to the normal fixed radio system, we also maintained a mobile radio setup on a jeep (MRC-113). The intent of this radio was to provide a mobile communications link, in the event of Command Post or radio site destruction.

In the spring of 1980, a large contingent of US Marines were flown into Balikesir for a three week exercise. The force was several hundred personnel and they set-up a large tent city on the far side of the flight line. A small group of 20 Marines set up their own radio link adjacent to our communications site. In conjunction with the Marines, we exercised loading all available Turkish F104s with full weapon loads (dummy weapons - I think!). Det 63-2 communications guys activated the MRC-113 radios, and drove around to various points on base to demonstrate radio continuity. This was about as close as any of us would come to playing real war. In retrospect, it might have solved many of today's problems if we would have loaded a couple and tested them in Iran…

It was always interesting to see flight operations, particularly the F104s. I have no idea what variant these were; I just knew that they were very fast, and that they would slide sideways for miles to slow down for a runway approach. To my knowledge, there were no aircraft accidents in the year I was at Balikesir. Besides the F-104s, C-130s stopped twice a week; on Tuesdays and Fridays. This was the shuttle in and out of Balikesir.

One quick story about the way Turkish bases operated. One day in the spring of 1980, our CP went off line. No alert signals, no phone, no nothing. They called us on a walkie-talkie, wanting to know if our primary radio link went down. We checked and all circuits were working fine; so we began to check the cable route. The Command Post was located just around the bend from the end of the flight line. As we rounded the end of the flight line, a bulldozer, earthmover, and several dump trucks were in full operation 'contouring' the area just off the end of the active runway. In effect, they were loading and selling topsoil at the behest of the Turkish base commander. Just off the road in the area where they were working was a large chunk of our previously buried cable, cut and lying on the ground. We had to call in our translator, Hussein, who chewed the workers out. We scrambled to patch the cable, and got our Command Post back on the line later that night.

The Tiger squadron of Balikesir, 192 Filo, has a history of applying non-standard badges on their F-16 fleet. Like this one that carries the badge below.


Photo and emblem courtesy of Frank Noort, Balikesir, 31 May 2001

We asked Hussein how these guys could do this work without checking for buried obstacles; Hussein said the base commander 'owns' the base, and can do anything he wants, including selling the topsoil!


All of the Geographically Separated Units and Munitions Support sites (GSU MUNSS) in Turkey were eventually closed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most of the assets were returned to the United States, although there is still a sizable presence at İnçirlik Air Base. The F-104s of the 1970s & 80s have been replaced with F-16s (C & D models). The Turkish Air Force still operates a fighter squadron at Balikesir Air Base.
(See: www.scramble.nl/tr.htm).

In retrospect, a one year assignment at Balikesir Air Base was not the end of the world! Although morale in the post Vietnam era was not that great, and US-Turkish relations were rocky due to the Cyprus issue, we who were stationed with USAF & NATO detachments at Balikesir did the mission we were called upon to do: deterrence. Had the unthinkable been necessary, the US-Turkish team at Balikesir was ready to deliver.

All information disclosed are my memories of Balikesir circa 1979-80 to the best of my recollection, which I freely admit is quite rusty! If anyone reading this has updates, more pictures, names of unknown people in my pictures, clarifications, or just wants to say hello, please contact me via the mail link below! I close with an open invitation to all who served at Balikesir to add your memories to this website.

Cheers……


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