|Turkish Base Played Key Role in Desert Storm |
Turkish Base Played Key Role in Desert Storm
By Staff Sgt. Matt Summers, 39th Wing Public Affairs.
Incirlik Air Base, Turkey – January 30, 2001 -- (USAFENS) -- Dawn broke on the second day of the Persian Gulf War Jan. 18, 1991, and the silent skies over Incirlik were filled with the roar of afterburners from the more than 100 aircraft deployed to Joint Task Force Proven Force.
Aircraft ranging from Vietnam era F-4s and F-111s to state-of-the-art F-15s headed toward Iraq in what seemed like a continuous flow. Three days into the war, two F-15 pilots deployed to Incirlik from now-closed Bitburg Air Base, Germany, each earned kills during air-to-air engagements over Northern Iraq. Three weeks later another Bitburg pilot brought down an Iraqi helicopter.
But these events happened over Northern Iraq, hundreds of miles from base. For many, they were too distant to fully comprehend. What people here could comprehend was being faced with the challenges war brings to not only military members, but also families.
According to articles from the Tip of the Sword, the base newspaper, more than 2,000 family members left Incirlik during a three-day, voluntary, fully funded return-of-dependents program that began Jan. 16, the day before the war started. Other civilian workers were evacuated as well.
Valerie Suttmiller, a first-grade teacher at the time, was one of about 60 Department of Defense Dependent School teachers who flew out shortly after the war started.
"Those of us living off base locked up our homes, left our pets and all the belongings we had in the world and flew out with a suitcase, never knowing if we’d ever return," Suttmiller said. "We left friends and many left loved ones behind, at a place we believed was a target of Saddam’s and could be bombed at any moment."
Tech. Sgt. Dale McGavran, 39th Wing historian, was stationed here in 1991 as a fuels specialist. He was one of thousands who stayed behind. Following his wife’s departure, McGavran volunteered to have fellow military members stay with him in base housing. According to the base newspaper, about 350 people were ordered to move on base for security reasons, and many more deployed people needed a place to stay.
"I worked with the two deployed guys who lived with me," said McGavran. "I really didn’t see them much because we worked long hours and had little free time."
Staff Sgt. Michael Summers, 39th Communications Squadron and a radio maintenance technician during the war, moved in with a sergeant he had met only two days before. "It turned out to be great, and I made a lifelong buddy," Summers said.
Despite the separation from family and long work hours, the men and women of Incirlik were proud of the job they were doing, said Summers.
"I went out to watch the jets take off every single day," he said. "What a sight it was. I couldn’t sing the national anthem very well before the war, but I can now because of all the practice I got during the war."
McGavran was busy refueling aircraft during most launches, but remembers the first night of sorties more than any other.
"It was an incredible sight with so many aircraft taking off one after another for what seemed like 30 minutes nonstop," he said. "I remember realizing what was happening the first night because after watching the planes take off we listened to the radio announcers talk about how we were bombing Iraq."
A point of frustration for McGavran and many others on base was the lack of exposure garnered by Incirlik’s mission, dubbed "Desert Storm North."
"We didn’t receive anywhere near the news coverage that Saudi Arabia and other locations did," he said. "I think many people were upset because we knew what we were doing while the news world focused on Southwest Asia."
-- USAFENS --