The long and storied heritage of the 39th Air Base Wing began on Nov. 20, 1940, with the establishment of the 39th Bombardment Group.
The group activated on Jan. 15, 1941, flying the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-25 Mitchell at Fort Douglas, Utah, and moved to Geiger Field, WA on Jul. 2, 1941. It then moved to Davis-Monthan Field, AZ, adopting the B-24 Liberator on Feb. 5, 1942, and redesignated as the 39th Bombardment Group, Very Heavy, on March 28, 1944.
The 39th BG then relocated to Smokey Hill Army Airfield, KS, and inactivated on Apr. 1, 1944. It was reactivated the same day as part of 20th Air Force, under the 314th Bombardment Wing, and forward deployed to the island of Guam. The 39th BG conducted its first mission against the Japanese home islands in April 1945, utilizing the B-29 Superfortress.
The 39th BG supported the Allied invasion of Okinawa by attacking airfields that served as bases for kamikaze pilots. The 39th BG, bombed military and industrial targets in Imperial Japan and participated in incendiary raids on urban areas from mid-May until the end of the war.
The unit earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for an attack against the Otake oil refinery and storage area on Honshu on May 10, 1945, and received a second Distinguished Unit Citation for bombing the industrial and dock areas in Yokohama and manufacturing districts in Tokyo, from May 23 to May 29, 1945. With the Axis powers defeated on Sep. 2, 1945, the 39th Bomb Group returned to the United States of America at Camp Anza, CA and inactivated on Dec. 17, 1945.
In Dec. 1943, Allied leaders had met for a second time in Cairo Egypt agreeing to locate a new air base south of Ankara, Turkey. The Congress of the U.S. approved aid to Turkey in May, 1947. By August, The Joint American Military Mission for Aid to Turkey was established in Ankara.
The U.S. Engineering Group began construction of the base located approximately 250 miles southeast of Ankara, Turkey, in the spring of 1951. The U.S. Air Force initially planned to use the base as an emergency staging and recovery site for medium and heavy bombers. Turkey formally joined NATO in February 1952.
The Turkish General Staff and the U.S. Air Force signed a joint use agreement for the new base in December 1954. On Feb. 21, 1955, the base was officially named Adana Air Base, with the 7216th Air Base Squadron as host unit. The following years would prove the value of Incirlik's location, not only in countering the Soviet threat, but also in responding to crises in the Middle East.
In 1958, the country of Lebanon fell under threat of an armed rebellion which, if left unchecked, could topple its President, Camille Chamoun and his pro-western government. On Jul. 14, King Faisal and Crown Prince Abdul Illah of Iraq were assassinated in a coup d’état led by Brigadier General Abdul Karim al’Kassim.
Rumors of a similar plot against King Hussein of Jordan spurred President Dwight D. Eisenhower to deploy military assets that same day. U.S. Army Europe was to provide forces as stipulated in the February 1958 revision of Emergency Plan 201. This plan directed the formation of Army Task Force 201 to handle emergencies in the Middle East. The task force would consist of two airborne battle groups. Incirlik Air Base served as the staging ground for Force Alpha. Troops then established Camp Zeitune in an olive grove near the airport and manned a perimeter defense around the airport. All three marine battalions assumed positions northeast of the city; U.S. Soldiers and Marines made a show of force around the area, and by the end of July they encircled the capital city Beirut with an armed perimeter. The combined forced enabled a peaceful transition of power in Lebanon.
After the Lebanon crisis, TAC deployed F-100 fighter squadrons on 100-day rotations to Incirlik from the United States. The strike force consisted of F-100s, B-57s, RF-101s, RB-66s, F-86Ds and WB-66s. These aircraft and supporting personnel overwhelmed Incirlik's facilities and aircraft parking aprons.
Incirlik also supported cargo and transport aircraft in deploying an Army battalion from Germany to Lebanon. Due to no fighting involving U.S. forces on the ground in Lebanon, the Incirlik-based strike force flew air missions to cover troop movements, executed show-of-force missions over Beirut, as well as accomplished aerial reconnaissance sorties and leaflet drops.
Project 119L, a U.S. Air Force meteorological balloon launching activity, and conducted operations at Adana AB in 1955. Following balloon operations, pilots began flying U-2 reconnaissance missions as part of Operation Overflight.
Renamed Incirlik Air Base on Feb. 28, 1958, the base was the main U-2 operating location until May 1960, when Francis Gary Powers' U-2 aircraft succumbed to a Soviet surface-to-air missile over Sverdlovsk.
As part of an effort to bring units with combat history into the theater, U.S. Air Forces in Europe inactivated Incirlik's 7216th, which had become an air base group, and activated the 39th Tactical Group at Incirlik AB, on Apr. 1, 1966. The group assumed control of permanent support units in place at Incirlik. During the 1960s, Incirlik AB hosted the 16th Air Force and USAFE rotational squadrons training deployments, supported humanitarian operations within the Republic of Turkey and maintained a NATO alert capability.
The flying mission at Incirlik AB further diversified in 1970 when the Turkish Air Force agreed to allow USAFE to use its air-to-ground range at Konya, providing a suitable training area for U.S. squadrons deployed to Incirlik. These units also conducted training at Incirlik's offshore air-to-air range.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, except during the Cyprus crisis, many types of aircraft including F-4 Phantoms, F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons, F-111 Aardvarks and A-10 Thunderbolts deployed to Incirlik AB. The United States and Turkey signed a new Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement Mar. 29, 1980, ushering in a new era of renewed cooperation.
After signing the DECA, USAFE initiated the Turkey catch-up plan to improve quality of life at the base and major construction projects, which included new base housing, as well as a state-of-the art hospital complex.
In 1988, as an attempt to enforce a cease-fire between the warring countries of Iran and Iraq, Incirlik AB served as a staging ground to transport a United Nations peacekeeping force into both states referred to as Operation POST ROAD. A U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy transported a 500 personnel force from Canada along with their vehicles and support equipment.
Incirlik AB further supported the Canadian aircrew members by providing round-the-clock operations support for the deployed force and 100 additional Canadian aircrew members with 10 Royal Canadian Air Force C-130 aircraft designated for a second wave of the operation. The Canadian force succeeded in their mission to enforce the cease-fire. Incirlik AB continued its Cold War mission of hosting rotational squadrons however, in January 1989, massive political changes in Eastern Europe began that would end 45 years of Soviet domination.
One of the most visible signs predicting the end of the Cold War, was the German Democratic Republic's opening the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact brought euphoria to the West, but also forced nations to ponder the future role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Meanwhile, Iraqi aggression in Kuwait brought increased activity to Incirlik once again. Instead of focusing on a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union, the base turned its attention to events in Southwest Asia.
After Iraq's 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait, the 7440th Composite Wing assumed operational control of the 39th Tactical Group. The 7440th CW was the air component of Joint Task Force Proven Force, which eventually controlled 140 aircraft and opened a northern front. This aerial northern front forced Iraq to split its air defenses between the North and the South where the main thrust of coalition attacks originated as part of Operation Desert Storm. Following the war, Incirlik AB hosted Combined Task Force Provide Comfort, I, II and III, in its mission to provide humanitarian relief and protect Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq.
The United States Logistics Group inactivated in 1991 bequeathing responsibility for all U.S. Air Force forces in Turkey to the 39th Tactical Group. The 39th TACG was redesignated as the 39th Wing on Oct. 1, 1993, and restructured as a standard U.S. Air Force objective wing.
Joint Task Force Proven Force, which primarily consisted of 5,000 sorties flown by U.S. aircraft from Turkey against strategic targets in northern Iraq, was an integral part of air operations in the Persian Gulf War. The JTF Proven Force had a broad impact on the Gulf War far beyond the military targets it destroyed for the following reasons-
- It forced Saddam to consider the threat of offensive military action from his northern border, resulting in the positioning of about one fourth of his army in northern Iraq away from the Kuwait Theater of Operations.
- It prevented Saddam from having a safe haven in northern Iraq, allowing for a more effective air offensive throughout the entire theater.
- It strengthened post-war Persian Gulf security by increasing Turkey's geopolitical influence and contributing to the rapid response to the post-war Kurdish revolt in northern Iraq.
In March of 1991, after the United States and coalition allies forcibly removed Iraqi forces from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm, thousands of ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq revolted against Dictator Saddam Hussein's rule. Iraqi forces had brutally suppressed earlier Kurdish revolts and had even used chemical weapons in doing so.
When Iraqi forces subdued the 1991 uprising, more than one million Kurdish refugees fled to Iran and Turkey. In addition, hundreds of thousands of additional Kurds remained along the border of Iraq and Turkey, where thousands died due to a lack of food, water, clothing, blankets, shelter and medical supplies. This humanitarian crisis spurred the United Nations Security Council to authorize relief efforts on Apr. 3, 1991.
In response, the United States organized a task force and launched Operation Provide Comfort. Operating primarily from Incirlik AB, U.S. Air Force C-130s began relief airdrops on April 7, delivering as many as 600 pallets of supplies per day.
In addition to the airdrops, U.S. Air Force C-5s and C-141s flew thousands of tons of cargo from the United States to Turkey. By mid-July 1991, the U.S. Air Force had transported over 7,000 tons of relief supplies. On Apr. 17, realizing that the refugees simply could not stay where they were, the United States expanded the scope of Provide Comfort and added ground forces to protect them.
The U.S. Army built temporary refugee camps for the Kurds and the coalition established a safe zone, using ground and air forces, in northern Iraq to allow the Kurds to return to their homes.
While Saddam Hussein rarely challenged the United States and coalition aircraft, the no-fly zone remained in effect and in 1996, U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton expanded the northern no-fly zone from 36 to 33 degrees north. During this same period, the U.S. Air Force completed Operation Pacific Haven, moving nearly 7,000 Kurdish refugees to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Those refugees would eventually find new homes in the United States.
The U.S. State Department's Operation Quick Transit evacuated thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq in late 1996. The wing provided logistical support in Turkey for this operation, which signaled the end of the humanitarian aspect of Operation Provide Comfort III Dec. 31, 1996. In its place, Operation Northern Watch stood up Jan. 1, 1997. Operation New Watch enforced the U.N. sanctioned no-fly zone for Iraqi aircraft and helicopters north of the Iraq's 36th parallel.
While Operation Northern Watch continued, the men and women of the 39th Tactical Group dispatched medical forces to Balti, Republic of Moldova on May 21, 1997, as a joint exercise designed to broaden the Moldavians rescue and treatment experience.
The 39th Air and Space Expeditionary Wing was activated at Incirlik Air Base on Sept. 15, 1997, to support and command U.S. Air Force assets deployed to Incirlik supporting ONW. Incirlik's tent city, Hodja Village, quickly became the Air Force's largest during this timeframe. Combined Task Force Northern Watch headquartered at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The commanders of the operation were U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Robin E. Scott, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Levent Turkmen, from the Turkish Air Force. The Task Force was charged with enforcing the no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel in Iraq and monitoring Iraqi compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions 678, 687, and 688.
The northern no-fly zone was not an aggression against Iraq or a violation of its sovereignty, it was a necessary and legitimate measure to limit Iraq's aggressive air activities. The Operation Northern Watch coalition partners, the United States, United Kingdom, and Turkey, provided approximately 45 aircraft and more than 1,400 personnel to support Operation Northern Watch. The joint U.S. force includes Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, all operating as part of the United States European Command.
Incirlik has always served as a hub for U.S. support to the Turkish government in the wake of disasters and humanitarian emergencies. For instance, Incirlik served as a critical hub for a virtual armada of U.S. aircraft delivering supplies in the wake of the Van earthquake in November 1976. In 1998, Incirlik again served as an aerial relief hub, as well as deploying a Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team, made up of 39th Tactical Group personnel, in the wake of back to back earthquakes near Istanbul in August and November 1999.
In response to the events of Sep. 11, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001. Incirlik served as a main hub of humanitarian airlift operations to Afghanistan, MC-130 special operations missions, KC-135 refueling missions and sustainment operations for deployed forces. The aerial port managed a 600 percent increase in airflow during the early stages of OEF. When U.S. contingency airbases were constructed in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, Incirlik's airflow supporting OEF decreased to a baseline sustainment level. With the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom Mar. 19, 2003, ONW ended. Incirlik's last ONW patrol returned to base Mar. 17, 2003. This flight terminated a successful 12-year mission to contain Iraq militarily. The 39th ASEW inactivated effective May 1, 2003.
The 39th Wing redesignated as the 39th Air Base Group, effective Jul. 16, 2003.
Aug. 19, 2003, the first rotation of deployed KC-135 Stratotankers and Airmen arrived at Incirlik to support Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
On Jan. 6, 2004, more than 300 soldiers of what would become thousands transited through Incirlik Air Base as the first stop back to their home post in the U.S. after spending almost a year in Iraq. Incirlik Air Base was part of what was then described as the largest troop movement in U.S. history. Incirlik provided soldiers with a cot, warm location, entertainment and food for their first few hours outside of a hostile war zone. The United States Air Force uses Incirlik to provide non-lethal cargo to U.S. military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A full 68 percent of air logistical support for Iraq and Afghanistan pass through Incirlik, with C-17 Globemaster III’s flying an average of 2,000 sorties per year and KC-135 Stratotankers refueling aircraft an average of 1,460. U.S. European Command estimates that its use of Incirlik and its overflight of Turkish airspace saves approximately $210 million per year in alternate route costs. The 39th Air Base Wing continued its role of major force provider in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
March 12, 2004, the 39th Air Base Group redesignated as the 39th Air Base Wing.
On June 1, 2005, Incirlik activated one of the Air Force's largest C-17 Globemaster III cargo hub operations in support of OEF and OIF. Hub operations deliver much-needed supplies such as add-on armor, tires, engines and more to U.S. Forces in theater via the 385th Air Expeditionary Group, a tenant unit at Incirlik.
On Oct. 18, 2005, Incirlik served as an air-bridge for the Pakistan Earthquake Relief Effort. Seven countries participated in the NATO-UNCHR humanitarian operation. Incirlik Air Base played host to a vast array of international aircraft and provided round-the-clock support since the relief operation started after the October 8 Pakistan earthquake. From the18th to the 19th of October, U.S. and Turkish Airmen helped the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the country of Turkey move urgently needed supplies. Five C-130 Hercules from Italy, Great Britain, Greece and France arrived and Airmen loaded them with 29 pallets of supplies from the commission’s warehouse in Iskenderun, Turkey. The cargo planes flew the aid, which included 10,000 tents to Islamabad, Pakistan on Oct. 19th, 2005. Over 100 trucks offloaded supplies at Incirlik Air Base that were transported in over 130 airlift missions which delivered 1,647 tons of supplies including heating oil, food and blankets.
From Jul. 21st to the 28th, 2006, Airmen stationed at Incirlik Air Base helped support more than 1,700 displaced American citizens from Lebanon in the wake of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Incirlik Airmen readied Patriot Village, which provided housing, telephone access, a 24-hour BX/Shoppette, a children's play area and provided chaplain's assistance and medical services for individuals transitioning back to the U.S.
Incirlik Air Base served as a hub for Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. UNSCR 1973 authorized all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack by Libyan regime forces. JTF Odyssey Dawn is commanded by U.S. Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, III. The JTF supports and protects United States and NATO assets as well as people throughout Turkey while providing a full spectrum of capabilities to the warfighter. The 39th Air Base Wing delivers vital support for numerous tenant and geographically separated units located throughout Turkey. Key support includes medical services, supply, security and force protection, base infrastructure maintenance, communications support, transportation services, airlift, services and personnel support.
Link to AFN YouTube video - https://youtu.be/zUTAgnNaSyE
The 39th Air Base Wing earned the following honors, which it proudly displays on its flag:
World War II American Theater Service Streamer
WW II Western Pacific
WW II Air Offensive Japan
Two Distinguished Unit Citations
Twelve Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards
Official Air Force 39th ABW Lineage and Honors
(Current as of November 2018)