Izmir, Turkey --
The first 15 minutes of our time in Izmir was a blur. Our host nation advisor eagerly walked, or should we say sprinted, us through the city trying to share everything his home had to offer. As we took a sharp left down another colorful market-filled street bustling with women and men conducting business, running errands and gathering for lunch, children lined a three-storied balcony cheering boisterously to something starting in the courtyard. As we slowed our roll, our HNA looked at us inquisitively, as if to say, isn’t this normal? In that moment though, the roaring hustle of the city seemed to pause with us as we waited to see what could possibly have everyone’s admiration and attention – a potato sack race of all things.
This moment of complete serenity happened time and time again, but always, and only, when we were able to see moments embodying the true identity of where we were.
‘Community’ holds a powerful connotation and means something different to everyone. Whether you define it is a group of people in the same location, having the same interests, or a similar background, it is safe to say the 425th Air Base Squadron in Izmir, Turkey, meets at the crossroads, the center of the Venn Diagram, the bullseye of all these definitions.
Providing world-class mission and administrative support to our NATO allies, the squadron showcases unwavering pride for not only the work they’re doing, but the community it has created based on customer service, passion and teamwork.
As we learned how the squadron functions like a wing, we also engaged with primarily one-deep subject matter experts who understood the immense responsibility of owning their programs. While it was apparent each Airmen understood the criticality of their role, what was just as admirable was that each discussion was interlaced with stories highlighting how their experiences here have positively shaped their lives forever.
Capt. Michelle Cazares, 425th Air Base Wing director of operations, mentioned her hesitation with originally taking an assignment in Turkey due to possible food limitations. However, within a week, the Commissary and Club were able to secure her much-needed dietary staples. She described how the Club staff went out of their way to deliver meals to them when they work late and will do their best to whip up whatever you are craving on a moment’s notice. Her face lit up as she pointed to the wall, ‘Best Club in the Air Force.’ To her it was not just a tagline, it was a brand that the 425th and support staff fully embodied.
It’s not just the staff at the Club though that goes above and beyond to put the needs of others first. Cazares also mentioned how grateful she was to the community when she lost her wallet. Not only did the interpreter work with the security team to locate the taxi she used, but he then called the taxi company to see if the driver found it. Simultaneously, her building manager went through video footage to see if they could locate it near the apartment and brought her to the local police station.
Throughout the weekend, and at every stop we went to, we heard these similar stories. Have you met her yet, she raises money to help the stray cats get vet appointments? Have you met him, he helps everyone move in and out of their apartments? Did you know, he brought his wife and she is teaching at a local school? And, regardless of the conversation, it always ended with, “...you must come again, you are always welcome, you must meet my Turkish friend who has made this place feel like home."
Albeit a two-day trip, it’s clear the 425th ABS has built a home flourishing with kindness, support and opportunities. It doesn’t take long to notice, and it doesn’t exist in select situations. It exists in the squadron’s very fiber because being a ‘knight’ means putting the community first; it means maintaining interoperability with our military alliances; it means singing karaoke with each other until midnight; it means moments of pure bliss cheering on a school’s potato-sack race. Just ask our HNA, you only need 15 minutes to see the difference the 425th has made.