Saturday, August 20, 2011

Incirlik AFB: Painting a Picture

I have realized that many people, truly, have no idea what it is like living in another country, living in the Middle East, living on Incirlik Air Force Base. My friend Stebbs told me that she has had trouble explaining her life to people that aren't here living it. So true! I therefore thought I would create a post, that I will most likely edit as I see fit, so people who aren't here can try to understand what life is like on this tiny little Air Force Base. I also thought it would be something I could share with future families, preparing to make the move to Incirlik.

1. Where is Incirlik AFB? Incirlik is located five miles east of Adana -- Turkey's fifth largest city. It is 35 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Adana is approximately 1.5 hours from the Syrian border.

2. Who uses/lives on Incirlik? The U.S. Air Force and the Turkish Air Force use this AFB. There are approximately 5,000 airmen on this Base.

3. Why do we have to have Americans on Incirlik? Established in the 1940's/1950's, Incirlik was designed strategically to counter the threat of the Communist Soviet Union during the Cold War and to be able to respond to any crisis that may arise in the Middle East. In other words, Incirlik is a forward presence in the Middle East. Our relationship with the Democracy of Turkey allows us to "have a Base" outside of the USA that we can use in getting supplies to Iraq or Afghanistan. It allows us to be close to Syria, Pakistan, and other Middle East countries without actually being in these countries. This Base belongs to Turkey, but they allow us to have a presence in the Middle East. The runways on the Base are a very prominent part of the Base so supplies can come in and out easily.

4. Does everyone bring their family to Incirlik? No. You can come to Incirlik "accompanied" (with your family) or "unaccompanied" (without your family.) Some people choose to come without their family because they don't want to take their kids out of their environment/school for such a short time. Or maybe because their spouse has a good job, etc. However, some people have the choice made for them because the Base does not have the ability to take care of their family. For example, if you are assigned to go to Incirlik and you have a child with special needs that the Base does not have resources to provide for, you may have to go to Incirlik unaccompanied. Tours at Incirlik are two years (24 months) if you come with your family. But if you come without your family, tours are one year (12-15 months.)

5. What is "The Alley"? Incirlik has everything that a person would need to survive for their entire tour without leaving the Base. If the Base does not have what is needed, "The Alley", which is an Americanized strip of shops right outside the Base can probably meet your needs. "The Alley" has shops, tailors, restaurants, carpet shops, etc. that cater to the Americans who live on Base. Most owners speak very good English which allows people living on Base access to anything they might need. Stores are even "governed" by the Base. If owners are not acting ethically or the environment is deemed unsafe, they can become "off-limits" to American personnel. Venturing away from "The Alley" does not offer the same insurance. In addition, it is unlikely that a store owner will speak English away from "The Alley."

6. Do you have to live on Base? All personnel are required to live on Base. Only teachers can choose to live off-Base since they are governed by a separate entity. In order to get on Base or off-Base, you must pass through fairly intense security, especially upon entry. Most people would tell you that even if given the option, they would not choose to live off-Base, especially if they have children. While being off-Base is not technically "unsafe", those who do live off-Base live in a sort of "compound" with high gates and intense locks.

7. What is the food in Turkey like? On Base, there are restaurants (a Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Taco Bell food court), "The Club" (a sort of Chili's-like restaurant), a Turkish cafe, a restaurant with limited hours at the Golf Course, a dining hall (for enlisted personnel), and a little Turkish fast-food place. If you want to leave Base, you can also easily walk to restaurants in "The Alley." They are all Turkish food, and, while good and English-friendly, better Turkish food can be found away from the Americanized area. In Adana, there is a plethora of restaurants to choose from. Most are Turkish. Other than a few McDonalds and Burger Kings scattered here and there, there is no fast food to speak of that is not Turkish in style. You can get a doner on any street corner. But not American fast food. There are two malls in Adana, both relatively new, that have food courts which, while definitely specializing in Turkish food, also have some things that are familiar to Americans -- an Arby's, a Sbarro, KFC, and a Popeyes for example. There is a (decent) Chinese restaurant that will actually deliver to the Base, and the Hilton hotel has Chinese and Italian dinner nights. There are also a few Italian-like restaurants in Adana. And there also some sushi options, but they aren't very good (according to my sushi-eating husband.) For the most part, if you leave Base, you are really limited to a few American fast-food options or Turkish food. Turkish food itself usually involves bread, meats, and salad-type sides.

8. What services are available on Base? You can get almost anything you need on Base. If it is something you want, you may be more limited. For example, the Base has: an arts and crafts center, a church, a mosque, a tailor, a salon (also available in "They Alley"), dry cleaning, car rentals, a grocery store (Commissary), a BX (Kmart-like store), a post office, a gas station (with American prices), a library, a fitness center, a Clinic, a school (K-12), a Childcare Center (0-4 years old), a Community Center, a Youth Center, a pool, a hotel, a (not-so-good) dog park, a golf course, a small movie theatre, two different places to play miniature golf, a flower shop, a bowling alley, an auto shop, a car wash, and more. There are many parks, tennis courts, baseball/softball fields and other places for athletic opportunities. There is even a place where you can get (cheap!) massages or take fitness classes. You can get everything done on Base that you need to get done but you can't be picky about what you need. If you can't get what you need on Base, you can venture into "The Alley" or farther into town (Adana.)

9. What are prices like? On Base, prices are very similar to the U.S. In addition, all services are tax-free. Off-Base, things are very inexpensive. The currency is the Turkish Lira which is currently treating Americans very well. My husband and I can go out to a nice dinner for $15 or less total and get more food than we can eat. If you use a Turkish tailor or go to a Turkish market, you will spend a fraction of the cost that you might in the U.S. or even on-Base. Things are much cheaper than the rest of Europe.

10. What are the houses like? Houses vary greatly. There are three main living areas:
  • Eagle: brand new houses of which we live in right now and are utilized by Enlisted* (and Officers*.

  • Falcon: the oldest houses which have undergone the least improvements. Largely officers but I have heard more enlisted are moving in here.

  • Phantom: has the worst location (away from the "center" of town) but have undergone extensive renovations. This is just for enlisted. I don't believe any officers live here.
Houses are given based on rank and family size.
11. Is Turkey safe? Turkey is relatively safe. However, it is advised that individuals do not leave Base by themselves when possible. Some people do choose to go into the "The Alley" by themselves, but when it comes to venturing further, it is recommended that you travel with someone else. The vast majority of people are friendly and wonderful, but this is the Middle East, and it is important that people remember that. There are al-Qaida cells present in Turkey.

12. What is the religion/worshipping like on and off the Base? This country is nearly completely Muslim. There is a mosque on Base (mostly utilized by the Turkish military and their families.) However, it is important to remember that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and wonderful people. When you leave Base, there are mosques everywhere. There are only a handful of churches off-Base and most are home churches. On Base, there is just one church but there are multiple types of services. There is a contemporary service, a gospel service, an LDS (mormon) service, a Catholic service, and a Seventh Day Adventist service. The protestant services are often combined for various activities. Services are on Sunday. There are also Bible Studies on Wednesdays.

13. Can family visit you on the Base? Yes, visitors are welcome. It does take some time to get them a pass to get on Base so you don't want to try to come at the last minute but visitors are welcome. I have been told that unless your visiting family member has the same last name, it is easier to just call them a "friend" to avoid having to "prove" a relationship. We have called all of our visitors (including my mom) a friend and have no had any problems. Visitors to the country will have to buy a Visa (for $20) when they enter the country either in Istanbul or Adana. Non U.S. citizens can also visit.

14. Is Turkey a place for children? The turks adore children. While it may take some getting used to when leaving Base with your children (the fact that so many people want to hug and kiss and hold them), on Base you are in a mini-America. Truly, the Base here is a "Mayberry" for young children. There is still crime on Base and sexual assaults do occur (especially around the dorms where young airman live), the proportion of crime is so much smaller than any place in America. I love the fact that my kids can play outside so much of their childhood here in Turkey. You will love this community for your young children especially.

15. I want more information! 
Click here for a post I did discussing life/culture in Turkey
Click here to watch an outstanding three minute video featuring the colors/sounds/smells of Turkey.

This is a post in process. What other questions do you have for me?

*There are two distinct career paths in the military, Commissioned Officers, and, Enlisted. The minimum educational requirements for enlisted members is a high school diploma (or GED), while a bachelors degree is required for commissioned officers. Many high school graduates enter the military as enlisted members and utilize their educational benefits to earn a degree and a commission!


Anonymous said...

Can you talk about ranks and commissioned vs enlisted more?

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

done! check the post again!

Casey (@ Chaos and Cardboard) said...

Falcon also houses enlisted families. It started as senior NCOs, but now as they are working to remodel more of Phantom they are moving more younger enlisted over here.

When a person goes from enlisted to officer it is about more than earning a degree. They either have to get a slot in OCS, attend ROTC, or be given a spot at the AF Academy. Especially lately, those things are hard to do. Many many enlisted airmen have their bachelors and masters with no desire to join the officer ranks.

Pam Johnston said...

Good morning and thank you for sharing! I came across your blog about a month ago, probably from another blog I read. You have a wonderful family and I thank you for sharing this information. You are in a part of the world I will never have the opportunity to see. It just seems so neat to live where you do and for your children to have the experiences they will have. So, thanks again, from a friend in East Texas. Pam

Jessica's Will said...

Just got orders! I found your info very helpful thank you...mind is at rest, for now :)!-Peterson AFB

Daniel Briggs said...

Great blog! And great page re Incirlik. I will forward to family back in the States. Good stuff!

Unknown said...

I was there with the 178th Fighter unit back around time of the "NO FLY ZONE" was being patrolled by our F-16's I have been trying to find a young man I made a promise to the work at Ismails Carpet shop Danny, any idea how if at all possible I could contact them or him?

Genna said...

I know its 3 years after you posted this but wanted to say THANKS. hubby just got orders to there and from your experiences, I am super excited to hopefully go with him.

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Jason, I am not familiar with this. Aren't shop. I would try the yard sale page on Facebook for more connections.

Jerry said...

Hello, I was wondering how often you update this, because my commander has informed me that this air base is not allowing its military to leave the base and since I will soon be stationed there, this information is deemed important to me. Could you please get back to me and let me know what is occurring at this time that would be great. Thank you.

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