INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
“Gü-nay-dın!” [Good morning!]
Everyone knows they’ll be greeted warmly as they pass by the office of Incirlik Air Base’s host nation advisor, adorned with decade’s worth of awards, trinkets and memorable photos of a career dedicated to the Turkish and U.S. partnership.
For more than 35 years, Mehmet Birbiri has served as the 39th Air Base Wing host nation advisor, bridging the gap between Incirlik’s U.S. forces and its Turkish allies by fostering communication and understanding.
Capt. Kaila Bryant, former 39th ABW Chief of public affairs, worked alongside Birbiri in support of the wing mission and saw his impact firsthand.
“Mehmet is one of the most important people on the installation, because he is the continuity for many different units, from security forces to logistics to the commander’s staff,” said Bryant.
Before Birbiri landed his dream job of host nation advisor, he embarked on a journey which started right outside Incirlik’s gates.
Birbiri grew up in Adana, the major city neighboring the base, and in 1968 attended the Istanbul Eğitim Enstitüsü, or Istanbul Education Institute, Teachers Training College, graduating in 1972.
“When I finished college I taught English to Turkish high school students for three years,” Birbiri said. “[Later] I started working on base, continuing to teach English but while also teaching Turkish for the Americans here at the education center.”
Birbiri taught English on base for four years, and during that time, he was well known for how much he enjoyed sharing his knowledge of Turkish life, culture and tradition. This led to his job offer for the role of host nation advisor for the 39th ABW in 1985.
“[Host nation advisor] has become my dream position, my dream job and I love it,” said Birbiri. “I don't just like it - more than that - I love it. As the host nation advisor I’m able to help the guests in my homeland, to be able to answer their questions, tell them about my country and my culture.”
In the role, Birbiri supported major events contributing to Incirlik’s mission and its allies.
In 1991, as the world watched the fighting settle at the end of the Gulf War; a then 41 year old Birbiri boarded the first military aircraft delivering humanitarian aid to refugees in northern Iraq, who were fleeing toward the Turkish border.
In response to 9/11, Birbiri maintained the relationship between the base and Turkish media outlets by clarifying and providing accurate and appropriate information as troops moved through Incirlik to deploy to Afghanistan.
Today, the base’s host nation advisor continues his role translating, mediating and advising both U.S. and Turkish forces.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua, former 39th ABW Public Affairs craftsman, is one of many Airmen Birbiri has served with. During his time at Incirlik, he witnessed just how much Birbiri contributed to the mission.
“Mehmet has been working at Incirlik longer than I have been alive,” said Magbanua. “He's witnessed events which changed the course of history. These experiences have shaped his worldview, and he has been around so many corners that there isn't much which scares him anymore. This is the kind of person you want on your team.”
Part of Birbiri’s role at the 39th ABW is to mediate the strong relationship between the U.S. and Turkish commanders.
“Serving as a liaison between two cultures is not easy. It's a job that requires a lot of tact, as well as substantial knowledge of both cultures and languages. Mehmet has the blessing of living in two worlds at once: as a liaison between Turkey and the U.S.”
When the 39th ABW leadership needs advising on Turkish protocol, Birbiri liaises between the American and Turkish Air Force commander here on Incirlik.
“I’ve been working at this job with love and with passion,” said Birbiri. “The best part is that my friends, coworkers and commanders always recognize the good things I do.
“In 1975, I started working here on base. I’ve been working here for the last 45 years,” he said. “I have no DEROS [date estimated return from overseas]. As long as my health allows me and as long as the boss is happy with me, I'll continue to work.”
As part of his end-of-day ritual, Birbiri looks at the clock, rises slowly from his creaking chair and stands in the doorway to his office as U.S. Airmen finish their day and head home. They wave to him as he wishes them well, until tomorrow when he’ll greet them once more.
“Sonra görüşürüz!” [See you later!]