INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
Col. Shelly Mendieta, 39th Air Base Wing vice commander, visited the 717th Air Base Squadron in Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 9 – 12, 2020.
During her visit, Mendieta toured the grounds and familiarized herself with the unit’s unique mission.
The 717th provides the foundation of mission support enabling the U.S. government to strengthen ties with the people and government of Turkey while also projecting U.S. and NATO power in the region.
As the capital of Turkey, Ankara is the seat of government and is also home to the U.S Embassy. This is where all the behind the scenes work is done – work that helps ensure the success of the 39th Air Base Wing.
“The 717th Air Base Squadron is working to support the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) and U.S. Embassy, which exists to strengthen the bilateral relationship at the strategic level,” said Lt. Col. Troy Smith, 717th ABS commander. “When the 39th Air Base Wing needs something, whether it’s to modify a building or launch missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, they must ask their Turkish hosts, the 10th Tanker for permission.”
Streamlining these requests is where Smith’s team is essential. Alongside the ODC and the U.S. Embassy, the 717th works with the host nation’s government for approvals that are required to ensure mission success.
“I don't feel like I really had a true sense of everything and all the contributions that you made with a very small number of people until I had a chance to sit in on some briefings and hear from the agencies you're supporting,” Mendieta said while addressing the squadron.
The 717th is housed on a 21-acre installation called the Ankara Support Facility. The ASF hosts a commissary, Base Exchange, library, chapel, gym, community center, track and field, and a K-12 school.
Smith described the squadron as the most complex organization within the wing, likening it to a miniature Mission Support Group with the ODC, Embassy and Department of Defense Education Activity School as their primary customers.
With the unique nature of the mission and structure of their organization, the 15 Airmen of the 717th have become tight knit.
Smith recalled the end of his first week in command when the superintendent informed him that the sibling of one his Airmen had passed away.
They both acted as quickly as possible and arrived at the Airman’s residence only to find other members of the unit already there. He said it became apparent they were already in the best hands so he shared his condolences and left.
“It was clear there was no reason for me to stay,” he said. “My unit was surrounding this Airmen as family. This continues to motivate me and will be an enduring highlight of my time in command.
During her stay, Mendieta also shared sentiments of community and supporting each other while being separated from friends and family back home.
“The community you build around you is what is going to sustain you through this year,” she said. It’s going to make you stronger and it’s going to make you happier. So cultivate that.”
She also touched on the importance of taking care of one’s self and seeking support when needed.
“A lot of people care about you so please don't suffer in silence,” Mendieta said. “The toughest thing I ever had to do is pull myself off the flight schedule. It had been a rough day and rough week and I had to send my husband a Red Cross message.”
Mendieta had to notify her husband of the loss of a loved one while he was deployed to Iraq. She had to make the tough call to pull herself off the flight schedule to allow her the space to take care of her family and herself.
She went to her Director of Operation’s office and informed him she needed to be pulled from the schedule. During that moment she had the support and understanding of her leadership and he reminded her of the helping agencies available to her and her family.
“I just recently started telling the story,” she said. “Everybody has a bad day and you've got to be ready to say, ‘you know what? Today is not my day. I need some help.’ Take a break.”
Mendieta also told the Airmen not to stay silent when something needs to be fixed, encouraging them to share their ideas and promising to find the right answers with the assistance of helping agencies and the Chief Master Sergeant network within the wing.
“I am here because of the Airmen and I still love what I do,” she said. “So give me that chance to do it for you.”