10 Airmen support community of 1,500

ANKARA, Turkey -- As the Air Force has gotten smaller, many Airmen have felt the strain of doing more with less. And perhaps no other Airmen understand the true meaning of that concept more than the Airmen of the 717th Air Base Squadron here.

With a history that goes back decades, the Ankara Support Facility is currently located on 14 acres nestled amongst the hills of Ankara; a mere 18 percent of what the installation boasted in its heyday. The American military presence drastically changed here when most of the mission, and its roughly 3,000 assigned Airmen, moved out in 1993.

After visiting the facility in 2001, then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper recognized the importance of a support function in the area and the ordered the stand up of the 717th in 2002 in its current role. Now with only 10 Airmen assigned, the seven-one-seven has the daunting task of supporting the needs of the more than 1,500 Ankara community members affiliated with the Departments of Defense and State, as well as NATO.

"We provide direct support to the military community here in Ankara," said Lt. Col. William Hill, 717th ABS commander. "We also provide supplemental support to the U.S. Embassy here, along with the NATO defense attachés and all the NATO countries here that have military members affiliated with either embassy work or the Office of Defense Cooperation-Turkey."

The ODC handles all American military cooperation in Turkey.

And the word "support" goes well beyond your typical thought of administrative support.
"We pretty much have everything a normal base would have," Colonel Hill said. "We have a BX and a Commissary for basic necessities. We provide all [traffic management office] activities, housing referrals, civil engineering; we have all of it."

And with only 10 Airmen to fill all those roles, their day-to-day duties are beyond the scope of many Airmen assigned to a typical unit. The director of operations is not only the second in command; he is also in charge of communications operations. The anti-terrorism, force protection officer also oversees the facility entry operations, along with some basic security forces and emergency management details. The commander's assistant not only helps with administrative work, he also helps individuals out with financial issues. And the person in charge of logistics is also the superintendant of the squadron, as well as its first sergeant. Other than that, it's just another day at the office.

"You really have to be flexible to have a successful assignment here," said Master Sgt. Angel Samuel, the 717th ABS logistics manager/superintendent/first sergeant. "When you get here, it's a whirlwind getting you spun up on your duties and the community."
This can be even more difficult when the duties concerning your career field are unlike any other in the Air Force. As a TMO specialist, Sergeant Samuel is in charge of all logistics for the Ankara community. The word "logistics" is the only similarity she shares with her TMO counterparts at other bases. She regularly heads to Ankara International Esenboga Airport to arrange fuel, maintenance, crew accommodations and other items for all military flights coming to the area; anything from military cargo flights to presidential visits. She meets with distinguished visitors from the moment they step off their plane and coordinates their entire stay while at Ankara. This is assuming there isn't an emergency concerning one of her Airmen in which she'd have to put her first sergeant hat on.

"There is no other TMO Airman in the Air Force doing what I do," she explained. "It can be stressful at times, but it can also be very rewarding. Being able to meet various generals and senators or congressmen; it's something I just wouldn't have the opportunity to do anywhere else."

The uniqueness doesn't end with the work these Airmen put in day in and day out. The community itself has come together in many admirable ways. From chapel services to youth sports, servicemembers and their families do what it takes to carve out their own little piece of home. And one of the primary anchors in the community is the DOD Dependant School.

However, George C. Marshall School is no ordinary DoDDS.

"What's unique about our school is that about half our school is represented by 36 different countries," Colonel Hill said. "The school is completely integrated and we have all our children attending the same classes. It's something these children wouldn't have the opportunity to experience anywhere else."

Another area the community has built on their own resolve is chapel services.
"We actually have a large chapel community here," Colonel Hill said. "We don't actually have a permanent chaplain yet, but that's something we're working on as well. "
But the community still finds a way to make it work.

"We have a local ordained minister who volunteers every week to do services," Colonel Hill said. "The community comes up with various events the same way you would at any other base, I just don't have a staff to oversee that. So it's really just from the sheer determination of the community that this has happened. We even have a few local national Christians who come and attend the services."

The Ankara military community has found a way to make a stressful situation work for them. Through expertise, flexibility and dedication it has been turned from a once forgotten remote assignment to a viable, thriving military community once again.

"Although people come here with a certain experience, it becomes quickly apparent that you need to get used to working outside your comfort zone," Colonel Hill said. "Whether it's working in the Fitness Center, since we have no one to operate it, or escorting distinguished visitors, overseeing a civil engineering project, all of my 10 Airmen here are doing well beyond the specific job they were sent here for.

"This wouldn't work if we didn't have some real quality folks here looking out every day for ways to make life better here at Ankara."