'Ask Mehmet' begins 39th year at the 39th

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Significant anniversaries are usually celebrated at decadal increments, but there is one that took place Nov. 25 that deviates from this tradition - the beginning of the 39th year of service for one of Incirlik's most famous Turkish employees began working for the 39th Air Base Wing, or rather the 39th Tactical Group as it was called once upon a time.

Mehmet Birbiri - the Mehmet of the educational and enduring "Ask Mehmet" features; the Mehmet who has taught the Turkish language to hundreds of U.S. Airmen for the past 32 years; the Mehmet who has introduced the Turkish culture to nearly every person who has come to the base from U.S. Airmen to spouses to NATO personnel for nearly 40 years - began here Nov. 25, 1975.

A visit to Birbiri's 10x15-foot office located in the wing's headquarters' building will quickly reveal two things - the vast amount of history he has been a part of shown in part by coins, flags and photos; and the quality of his work as evidenced by four Air Force-level awards, 15 United States Air Forces Europe-level awards and more than 50 annual and quarterly wing awards.

"I'm really happy to be recognized for what I do," said Birbiri. "To tell you the truth, I would not have received all these awards without my teammates. I really appreciate that."

Birbiri has provided support as the wing's host nation advisor since before many of the Airmen he works with were even born, let alone joined the Air Force. He has witnessed the evolution of air power as F-4 Phantoms and F-111 Aardvarks gave way to F-16 Falcons and F-15 Eagles. He has also been a part of Operations DESERT STORM, NORTHERN WATCH, IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM as well as Combined Task Force Provide Comfort I, II and III and the current PATRIOT missile operations being conducted by NATO.

"Each of them really means something else to me," replied Birbiri when asked which operation was his favorite to be a part of. "It's like asking, 'which child do you love the most?' You really can't answer that. Each has a special meaning for me."

While the winds of change have altered the infrastructure of the installation, the political and socio-economic climate, and even the designation and mission of the wing, Birbiri has been a rock of stability and source of continuity in an organization that necessarily deals with the frequent turnover of personnel because of the short tour lengths here.

"A number of situations have occurred involving Incirlik that without Mehmet's experience and knowledge we would have been left in the dark," said Master Sgt. Gloria Wilson, 39th ABW public affairs superintendent. "He has given us first-hand accounts of actions he witnessed during labor strikes and noncombatant evacuations, and he even has been able to fill me in on where certain buildings used to be. He's the missing puzzle piece you need if you hope to know what picture you're looking at here."

Beyond being the face of the wing to the local media, the primary source for questions about Turkish culture or wing history and the one of the main liaisons between the U.S. and Turkish air forces, Birbiri is an example of service to everyone, both U.S. and Turkish.

"It never ceases to amaze me that wherever I go around the world, there are local national employees of the U.S. government that show such a high level of dedication and integrity to both their nation and to the United States, and Mehmet is certainly no exception," said Col. Craig Wills, 39th ABW commander.

Click here to read "Ask Mehmet" features and how to contact him with a question of your own.