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Teamwork helps Incirlik Airmen handle new COVID-19 testing requirements

Photo of passenger terminal building at Incirlik Air Base.

Summer midday sun falls on the front of the base passenger terminal building July 31, 2020, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The PAX terminal is where all incoming and outgoing Airmen and civilians pass through to enter Turkey. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Lackey)

Incirlik Air Base, Turkey --

Incirlik Air Base and its Turkish Air Force coalition partners are adapting to evolving COVID-19 conditions to ensure base safety as military members travel between bases during peak moving season in the month of July, 2020.

TurAF provided new COVID-19 testing requirements, in-line with the latest U.S. Secretary of Defense military travel mandates, requiring all incoming U.S. personnel test negative within 72 hours before arrival.

“TurAF updated the process for incoming U.S. personnel by adding new testing requirements between July 10-17,” said Maj. Adam Gorzkowski, 39th Air Base Wing Plans and Programs chief. “Maintaining a positive relationship with our TurAF hosts is a high priority, but there are regularly scheduled incoming flights of new Airmen, so we had to figure out how to adjust our processes within a few days for the next round of arrivals.”

It was Friday, July 17th, and the next group of newcomers would be landing at Incirlik just four days on the 22nd, leaving little time to find a solution so Airmen could pass through customs.

“We realized there was not enough time to test this first batch of new arrivals before leaving the states,” Gorzkowski said. “So the 39th (Air Base Wing) quickly came together to brainstorm a solution that would satisfy the new country admission requirements.”

Documented negative tests had to be completed before the newcomers arrived, so as medical, planning, personnel, logistics, air mobility, maintenance and civil engineer Airmen from across Incirlik prepared to accommodate the flight, leadership reached out to counterparts at Ramstein Air Base Medical Group for the tests.

“Units critical to welcoming new arrivals reached out to our counterparts at Ramstein Air Base,” said Col. Sean O’Brien, 39th Medical Group commander. “I spent Friday evening (July 17th) talking to Col. Ryan Mihata, 86th Medical Group commander at Ramstein, to hash out the best way to approach testing in-route.”

When Incirlik expressed an urgent need, fellow Airmen at Ramstein answered the call. With the next wave of arrivals incoming, the 86th MDG and the U.S. Army medical staff at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center arranged to use the layover at Ramstein to quickly take samples from everyone, immediately run the tests and send the results on to Incirlik before the plane landed in Turkey on July 22nd.

“It was a highly unusual move in unusual circumstances, but it’s truly an example of total team effort to keep the mission going,” O’Brien said. “It wasn’t just our people either, as the TurAF did everything they could to work with and help us meet this requirement to keep everyone safe. I think its proof that you can make anything happen with a good team.”

Teamwork helped get the first flight into Turkey safely, but a more permanent solution would be needed going forward as more personnel continue to arrive.

“We are still using quarantine procedures on top of this new testing requirement to retain the best safety measures possible,” Gorzkowski said. “We are working at all levels to implement processes that will ensure documented testing before our people travel overseas.”

Global Mobility readiness hinges on taking care of U.S. Airmen and allied partners while the world continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, while coalition forces face new operational challenges, teamwork is keeping the U.S. Air Force ready to Fly, Fight and Win.