Top lessons learned from loving what I do!

Tanju Varlıklı, 425th Air Base Squadron host nation adviser, at his office at 
NATO Dec, 16, 2015. Varlıklı serves as the host nation adviser of the 
425th ABS at Izmir, Turkey. (Photo by Elif Kaynak)

Tanju Varlikli, 425th Air Base Squadron host nation adviser, at his office at NATO Dec. 16, 2015. Varlikli serves as the host nation adviser of the 425th ABS at Izmir, Turkey. (Photo by Elif Kaynak)

IZMIR, Turkey -- When you align what gives you meaning in life with your work, it gives you a calling. I think of my job in terms of what I enjoy doing. We typically consider football, basketball, music, art and computers as hobbies. But what more can a person ask for when their work is part of their hobbies. That's the best!

I enjoy what I do for the 425th Air Base Squadron. The 425th Air Base Squadron has a challenging and diverse mission. From providing world-class mission support to NATO Headquarters Allied Land Command Izmir to administering the Çiğli Air Base Loan Agreement, the 425th ABS fulfills a critical role and I'm proud to be a member of both Team Izmir and Team Incirlik.

I currently fill three roles for the squadron: host nation adviser to the commander, public affairs liaison, and protocol officer. Although they can be challenging to juggle at times, I would not change any position because I love what I do. As I reflect upon my different roles, and prepare for a new year of new challenges and adventures, I'd like to share a lesson I've learned from each position:

1. Host nation adviser position taught me to 'create barriers of accessibility'

My primary role is to be the adviser to the 425th ABS commander on all host nation matters, civic and political engagements, provide translation support as well as foster and strengthen the relationship between the U.S. military command and community, and Izmir's host nation community, and military and civic leadership. When public diplomacy is required, I'm there, full throttle, just like a diplomat for another top-notch project being all eyes and ears interpreting for the commander or the Izmir American community.

In this role, I've learned that I am of best services when I'm accessible at all times to the commander and the U.S. military community in Izmir. I actually prefer it that way. I'm a firm believer of open door policies, but past experiences have taught me to create barriers to entry and ensure I am not too accessible at times of potential crisis. More than anything else at times of potential crisis, I see the job as not only the air-station community liaison to address and resolve potential problems impacting Turkish-American relations, but also a cultural buffer between Turks and Americans, which sometimes means not translating to the best of my ability if I see there is something negative coming. Since this is my primary role, I sometimes ruthlessly cut away the unimportant and focus on the important. This keeps me level-headed, focused and helps achieve excellence.

2. Protocol taught me to 'control my controllable'

I enjoy leading with protocol though it can be challenging at times. I enjoy working closely with the 425th ABS command section to plan, coordinate and execute visits of American dignitaries. My journey with U.S. protocol started in March 2006 when the 425th ABS was re-designated as a group. When the commander assigned me the job, I was both excited and a little bit worried because I did not know how to write a change of command or retirement ceremony script, and wasn't sure if I would be able to balance planning events with my host nation and public affairs duties.

Adding this position to my list of duties has taught me the true meaning of the U.S. Air Force's common saying that 'flexibility is the key to air power!' Distinguished visitor visits and squadron events can be ever-changing so when I am doing my day-to-day business as the protocol officer, I completely remove things that limit my productivity and cause me to lose focus on my sole role and purpose. Protocol is all about teamwork because most events or visits affect more than just me and I have to work with other squadron and external agencies. My primary focus however  is to always control my controllable duties or tasks and don't worry about the rest which is beyond my control. If you do not learn to do this, you can easily get bogged down with details you cannot fix or control and it can affect the overall mission.

3. Public affairs taught me that 'it's okay to make a mistake'

Before working as the host nation adviser at the 425th ABS Public Affairs office, I worked at a Department of Defense Dependents School as a host nation teacher in Izmir from 1999 to 2002; and earned my Ph. D in 2002. My job as an educator as well as my assignments as a doctoral student prepared me for the public affairs liaison role in terms of planning and writing. Although I did not have much photographer experience, I have picked up the basics.

On the other hand, photography duties are difficult to balance at times. For example, if I have to plan and lead a DV visit, take photos and write an article about it for the squadron newsletter, it can be challenging to get multiple photos because of my protocol and host nation adviser duties. My past experience in this role has taught me that no matter how small or big the task is: when you are trying to balance too many things at once, you are prone to making mistakes, which can be frustrating for anyone involved. It can result in a failure to meet your core work responsibilities because you are too busy with other tasks.

Overall, I believe that no matter what you are doing at work, whether Turkish or American, it comes down to a few things if you really enjoy what you are doing - hard work and personal responsibility. I feel blessed because I enjoy what I do. I've learned a lot and truly hope these lessons and tips can benefit someone else.