U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has visited the 39th Air Wing in the base within his weekly Middle-East tour launched in Turkey on Dec. 15. Within the high-level visit, Incirlik Airbase has opened its doors wider than ever to Turkish and American media.
While military activities intensify and top-level visits become more frequent within the anti-IS fight in Syria and Iraq, hundreds of military families have been “evacuated” for security reasons in the recent months.
Coalition personnel's missions and preparations against the IS continue at Incirlik Airbase, with accompany of German and French aircrafts, deployed this month. DHA reports from the ground, after an intense media briefing and tour with U.S. military officers.
Motto: “Larger than life”
The U.S. wing's mission motto is described as “larger than life” with priorities listed as “combat readiness, strengthening the alliance, enhancing quality of life for Airmen and families, as well as shaping a sustainable future for the Incirlik Airbase team and U.S. community”.
In this regard, F-15E Strike Eagles, KC-135 Stratotankers and A-10 Thunderbolts constitute basics of the wing, the briefing said, one day before F-15Es were said to be drawn back.
Major Tim, piloting the F-15E Strike Eagle has told DHA, their primary mission was to support the coalition amid fight against the IS in Syria and Iraq, and they were happy to observe a progress. The F-15E is a dual-role fighter performing air-to-air an air-to-ground missions at low altitude.
A mission including flight and preparations take around 6-7 hours, said Major Tim, underlining Incirlik Airbase, in 100 nautical miles to the main theatre, had a significant location, easing refueling, getting to the area quickly and remaining on station for a long time.
“Squadron operations building is located right next door to Turkish operations building, so we are able to chat with them, trade lessons learned. We eat together with Germans and other coalition partners in dining rooms” he said.
Accordingly, Major Charlie of the U.S. Air Forces told he has been flying A-10 Thunderbolt for around eight years and was stationed in the Incirlik Airbase for just six weeks. Thunderbolt, known as tank killers have been used for long time by the U.S. Air Forces, with its indispensable platform offering close air support, 30-milimeter-long machine artillery and laser-controlled missiles and bombs.
Missions take over eight hours
Within daily operations to Iraq and Syria for bombing IS targets, they have flown around 500 combat sorties so far and missions take over eight hours, carried out three times a week, Major Charlie said. His responsibility includes helping mission plans and preparing for the next flight, standardization of A-10s, and working closely with Turkish hosts.
According to Major Charlie, the personnel has no opportunity to travel and he cannot go back to his home country, thus pretty much “stuck” on the base in his daily life. On the other hand, vendors provide local food introducing them the Turkish culture, he said.
Germany has also deployed six Tornados and a cargo aircraft, Airbus310. Chief Public Affairs officer for the German Air Forces, Andreas Berg said Tornado reconnaissance jets help to take aerial photographs, both photo optical and IR imagery. Germany Air Forces seek to orient the operation with tornados that are equipped with a pod containing high-resolution cameras for reconnaissance flights.
The Airbus 310 mainly helps with transporting tankers and giving refueling support to coalition aircrafts, he added. The cargo jet has endurance for 10 hours on the air.
German air force expects at least one flight a day, although their next missions have not been identified so far. Both Turkish and American sides have warmly welcomed them, he stated.
Personnel “stuck” in the base
While military movements at the base within coalition's fight against the IS intensify after the deadly Paris attacks in November, the most significant change is that military and civilian personnel have been “stuck” in the base since July, said Kristine Verbeten, Deputy of U.S. the 39th Force Support Squadron.
Thus, the life outside Incirlik Airbase seems to have been moved to the base and services offered to personnel are of high importance, said Verbeten, addressing reporters in an exclusive bus tour at the Patriot village. Housings have been there for the last 13 years the airbase.
Verbeten described these life spaces as “harden housings” rather than tent cities. The “Eagle Housing” reminds of American suburban neighborhoods. Less than 10 percent of the personnel were with family members hosted in U.S. housings, Verbeten added.
Largest contingency area in Europe
According to the U.S. officials, Incirlik Airbase hosts around 1,300 American personnel and the largest contingency area in Europe.
One of the key buildings in the base, the hospital, has a ground floor that “cannot be destroyed even if the upper floors are bombed”.
Personnel from different forces gather in common areas such as the community center offering theatre, library and other facilities, as well as dining rooms such as the Sultans Inn where around “50,000 meals are served monthly”.
The Patriot Village also includes a pool, gym, library, child development center, more than one ballparks, a post office and markets selling most of American brands.
Additionally, a park hosting events ranging from rock concerts to resting activities, along with the Club Complex, with 12 rooms including cafes, a steak house and other common spaces stand out as major facilities served to personnel in the Patriot village.