Nearly 650 family members reach U.S. from Turkey within 74 hours

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — Minutes after an ordered departure of Defense Department family members and civilians assigned to locations in Turkey, mobility Airmen sprang into action around the world, preparing to execute missions that would ensure a safe and speedy airlift for them and their pets.

The combined mission effort was accomplished within 74 hours following the initial order on March 29. Around 650 passengers and 70 pets were moved using three contracted commercial aircraft and six C-17 Globemaster III aircraft assigned to Air Mobility Command, according to data compiled by the 618th Air Operations Center at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

The mandatory departure came at the recommendation of Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the commander of U.S. European Command. In a press conference held March 29, Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, said the decision to move dependents was made “out of an abundance of caution.”

The DOD spokesman also emphasized that the decision was not triggered by a specific threat, but rather the broader scope of security threats playing out in the region.

“This decision allows for the deliberate safe return of family members from these areas due to continued security concerns in the region,” he said. “It in no way signifies a permanent decision to end accompanied tours at these facilities and is specifically intended to mitigate the risk to DOD elements and personnel, including family.”

After the passenger movement was validated by U.S. Transportation Command, Special Assignment Airlift Mission and Global Channel planners at the 618th AOC worked together to phase the required aircraft through normal en route bases and move the families to their desired home destinations.

Lawrence Gray, the 618th AOC deputy director of current operations, said that once USTRANSCOM confirmed mission requirements and the estimated number of passengers needing airlift, flowing the aircraft through Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, at a rate that met the needs of the 39th Air Base Wing was all that was needed to successfully execute the ordered departure.

“Having previously been assigned to Incirlik myself, it was a little disheartening to see the families have to leave; but it was good to see the footage of the families moving through the transportation system to their desired destinations on TV and know that we were able to rapidly respond to get them a step closer to home,” Gray said.

Brig. Gen. Brian Robinson, the 618th AOC commander, highlighted the important role readiness played in moving families to safety.

“Taking care of our Airmen and their families is a top priority in our Air Force,” Robinson said. “Employing rapid global mobility was crucial to ensure that family members could safely depart Turkey.”

On March 30, those being evacuated began to arrive at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where members of the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing, the 86th Airlift Wing and others throughout the Kaiserslautern military community stood ready to welcome the travelers and ease their transition.

“What we tried to do is ease the stress of travel for the family members and take care of their needs as they came in (to the passenger terminal),” said Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Holland, of the 721st Aerial Port Squadron. “I can imagine myself being downrange and getting the notification that my family is leaving in a few hours. I would want someone to assist them.”

While some families remained at Ramstein AB, many continued their journey back to the states and other authorized safe-haven locations.

On March 31, flights bound for the U.S. began arriving at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Baltimore. Members of Detachment 1, 305th Aerial Port Squadron greeted families and assisted with their final travel arrangements to locations throughout the States.

A number of other support agencies, including the USO and Red Cross, stepped in to provide food, comfort items and assistance during the ordered departure. Industry partners also bolstered the seamless transition of families as they arrived at both Ramstein AB and BWI.

Lt. Col. Bary Flack, the 305th APS commander, said he was thrilled with how his team of Airmen assisted families and coordinated with numerous agencies and commands at Ramstein AB and BWI.

“The partnership with the BWI airport authorities has been outstanding,” Flack said. “They’ve been great partners. To see not only how our folks adapted, but (also how) the airport’s (staff) adapted.”

Gen. Carlton Everhart II, the AMC commander, said the success and speed of this passenger movement was a shining example of the command’s mission to provide rapid global mobility.

“Rapid global mobility is the heart of what we do,” Everhart said. “Thanks to our ability to reach any corner of the globe in a matter of hours and the skill of our Airmen, we were able to act quickly and deliver critical airlift when our military family needed us most.”

In September, concurrent travel of accompanying dependents was suspended and the voluntary departure of Air Force families was approved amid concerns about increasing unrest in the region. This move resulted in the relocation of about 100 family members.

Editor’s note: Some information was taken from stories published by 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs and Air Force News Service.

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