Airmen preserve Incirlik heritage with base Hodja makeover

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kailtin Cashin
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Upon arriving to Incirlik, after over 24 hours of travel, sleeping on the floor of the BWI airport, before making a pit stop at the terminal of Ramstein Air Base, newcomers often arrive to base jetlagged, wrangling suitcases and clinging to welcome packets longing for the beds that await for them in their final step of the journey: checking into temporary lodging.

As you round the corner to the parking lot, it is easy to feel disoriented when your first impression of the base is the iconic figure of a turbaned man riding backwards on a donkey.

This statue positioned outside of the 39th Air Base Wing temporary lodging facility commemorates Incirlik’s tie to the Turkish legend of Nasreddin Hodja.

The Hodja, which literally translates to “instructor” or “teacher,” is the symbol of Turkish humor and represents a long line of philosophical lessons according to 39th ABW host nation advisor, Mehmet Birbiri in a 2014 article on the legacy of the statue.

As timeless as the legacy of the Hodja is to many Airmen at Incirlik, the statue was riddled with holes and its paint had faded. It had not been maintained since it was first installed in the 1990s.

Understanding the first impression it presents to many Incirlik Airmen, Ryan Collins, the 39th ABW historian, sprang into action.

“It was important that we show new Airmen assigned to the 39th Air Base Wing what it means to be ‘Ready, Reliable, Responsive’ -- and proud with the Hodja.”

After brainstorming solutions that would not require external assistance or funding, he worked with a team of volunteers to remove the statue from its pedestal, take off the chipped paint, sand down, apply model cement, and add multiple layers of paint. When designing the renovation, the team chose to match the new colors with the official emblem of the 39th ABW shield.

Following hours of labor and days of waiting for the paint to dry, the final touch was a sticker depicting the 39th Air Base Wing titan logo and reinstallation.

On Nov. 27, 2023, the team of volunteers from units throughout the base re-installed the newly renovated Hodja statue.

Today, it stands as a proud welcome to newcomers and those passing through Incirlik to have humor while remaining ready, reliable and responsive.

“Due to the efforts of these Airmen, the Hodja’s legacy lives on … Larger than life!” said 39th ABW chief of the Air Staff, Lt. Col. Travis Halleman.
After seeing the new statue, 39th ABW commander, Col. Kevin Lord, said, “Thanks so much to the team for making this happen. I appreciate the initiative to see something that could be made better and just doing it! I applaud and am grateful for your initiative!”

The Hodja Inn supports 17,000 reservations every year for the 39ABW and NATO partners.

To learn more about the Hodja legend and history, read:

Mr. Emin Onatoglu, 39th Force Support Squadron, Lodging.
Captain Courtney Wirtz, 39th Air Base Wing, A5.
Mr. Nadir Kayaguclu, 39th Force Support Squadron, Lodging.
Mr. Dustin P. Zudell, 39th Air Base Wing, Information Protection.
Major Angie M. Cox, 39th Communications Squadron, Commander.
Mr. Cihan Sunguray, 39th Force Support Squadron, Lodging.
Major Bryan T. Blank, 39th Air Base Wing, A5.
Mr. Halil Coskun, 39th Force Support Squadron, Lodging.
Mr. Recayi Ozdemir, 39th Force Support Squadron, Lodging.
Mr. Ryan S. Collins, 39th Air Base Wing, Historian.
Mr. Kadir Ozgoren, 39th Force Support Squadron, Lodging.
Mr. Remzi Esberk, 39th Force Support Squadron, Assistant Lodging Manager.
Ms. Gizem Ustun, Roadhouse Grill, AF Club Contract, (Artistic Input).
Lt Col Travis W. Halleman, 39th Air Base Wing Chief of Staff, (Leadership Oversight).