Letting the Port Dawgs off of the leash: Incirlik Air Base Airmen support earthquake response in Türkiye

  • Published
  • By Master Sergeant Jonathan Lovelady
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

After a series of earthquakes struck central-southern Türkiye on Feb. 6, 2023, the 728th Air Mobility Squadron responded to an immediate influx of cargo that was transported through Incirlik Air Base with the airfield and logistical support of the 39th Air Base Wing.  

In partnership with the 39th Logistics Readiness Squadron and the Turkish Air Force’s 10th Tanker Base Command, the 728th AMS established a humanitarian aid staging area on base that would become known as the “Ring of Fire” due to its circular shape, its primary purpose as a training area for the base fire department, and the rapid rate at which cargo is transported to and from the area.


On the morning of February 6, Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Holguin, 728th AMS aerial port superintendent, woke up to the longest earthquake he can remember. After taking shelter in the door frame of his bedroom, he called his family to let them know what happened. It was during that phone call that Holguin felt a series of aftershocks, but he didn’t understand the magnitude until he went to work that day.

“We conducted our recalls and that is when things started to sink in,” he recalled. “As I started to get updates on our civilian partners assigned to the squadron, another earthquake hit. I recall Staff Sgt. Rebecca Frazier yelling for everyone in the warehouse to get outside, so we did.”

With the squadron’s top three leaders out of the country conducting a site visit, Holguin led his team – consisting of nearly 100 military personnel across three work centers – into action as the first relief aircraft started to arrive. They recognized immediately the need for flexibility to overcome the challenges ahead.

“It was so hectic because we had no in-transit visibility of when planes were landing or what they were carrying until they were on the ground,” Holguin explained. “This created a challenge for the team because cargo was arriving so quickly that it was difficult to keep up with the increased aircraft and support their rapid ground times.”

Airmen found themselves working 12-15 hours a day with no days off, and Holguin praised some individuals for working until the last possible moment on the day of the earthquakes.

“We had members rotating out that night,” he said. “With bags packed, they pulled out their steel toe boots and came to work all night, driving forklifts and helping where they could, before getting on a plane.”  

To keep pace with the increased aircraft and cargo volume, the 728th AMS worked with the 39th Air Base Wing to request 48 additional air transportation specialists and material handling equipment.

“Within 48-hours, we had half our request filled in and steel toe boots on the ground,” Holguin said. “This proved why the 521st AMOW is always in place and why the Global Air Mobility Support System plays such a critical role in being able to deliver and receive U.S. humanitarian relief resources at moment’s notice.”  


At the time of the earthquakes, Master Sgt. Danielle Primas, 728th AMS readiness and resources flight superintendent, was in Baltimore, Maryland, traveling back to Incirlik AB after taking emergency leave to deal with a family issue. She started seeing messages from her fellow Airmen in their group chat asking whether the others felt the vibrations.

“My heart just dropped because I previously served at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska and we had a lot of earthquakes,” she explained. “Back in November 2018, we had a big quake that demolished roads and houses. Luckily my house only sustained a few cracks, but my kids were at home when it happened and they were traumatized. I knew for sure something was wrong.”

Primas’ flight landed at Incirlik AB around 12:30 a.m. the following day and from the aircraft window, she saw an abnormally high volume of activity on the flight line.

“I’ve never seen the ramp so packed, with commercial aircraft at that,” she recalled. “I got home and couldn’t sleep so I unpacked. Then 7 a.m. came around and they said they needed me. I didn’t even sleep, I went straight in and worked from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. that day.”

Primas praised the Turkish volunteers who worked side-by-side with 728th AMS Airmen to transport relief supplies and support their communities despite their personal challenges. Having gone through an earthquake herself and seeing how her family was affected, she said she can’t imagine herself reacting the same way.

“We’re next to them throwing boxes … they’re very grateful,” she said. “My heart goes out to these people. We’re here to support the folks that need us, and I know that it’s tough.”


Tech. Sgt. Jacob Siluano, 728th AMS noncommissioned officer in charge of aircraft services, was serving as an acting first sergeant when the first earthquake hit. He was on official travel to visit a tenant unit in Cairo, Egypt, with Lt. Col. Matthew Bryan, 728th AMS commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Brenton Phillips, 728th AMS senior enlisted leader.

Within 24 hours of their arrival in Cairo, the leadership team was notified of an earthquake and started taking accountability to ensure their members were safe and accounted for while trying to get back to Incirlik AB as quickly as possible. 

“I was immediately reaching out and finding out what we needed as a team, letting people know that here comes the surge and reminding people to trust the process,” Siluano said. “This isn’t the time to show off, it’s about sinking to your level of training and executing everything you’ve been taught. It’s time to network and figure out how you operate.”

After a series of flight delays and cancellations, Siluano arrived back at Incirlik AB 72 hours after the recovery efforts started, which felt like a lifetime to him. He worked nearly 24 hours straight his first day and only stopped because his senior leaders told him to get rest so he could be at his best.

“When we hit the ground, the team was getting after it,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder; none of them complained, and none of them worried about themselves. They were just trying to save as many people as possible.”

Holguin and the on-ground Airmen exceeded expectations during the initial stages after the earthquake but having Siluano and the command team on the ground enabled the squadron to increase efficiency by taking calculated risks to handle the increased operational tempo. Siluano was given the green light and top cover from his leaders to accomplish the mission.

“My chief helped us out in an incredible manner,” Siluano recalled. “We’re Port Dawgs. He activated me, took the chain off and said, ‘go get ‘em,’ which is exactly what we did.”

Siluano developed a plan that redirected efforts away from the overflowing cargo warehouse, reducing the 500% increase in foot traffic for the building and making the receiving truck line more efficient. After implementing his plan for 36 hours, the team quickly realized that the plan needed to be adjusted as airflow continued to arrive unannounced.

On February 10, 728th AMS and Turkish leaders met to discuss synchronizing efforts between services, and Siluano presented a new plan that would expand the yard to include the use of the 39th ABW’s fire training area.  

“We were able to transition and streamline some of the chaos and create an actual port yard,” Siluano explained. “The Airmen like to call it the ‘Ring of Fire,’ which is what it is because it’s a hot spot for all of our cargo.”

According to Holguin, the creation of the Ring of Fire doubled cargo capacity, provided Turkish trucks an alternate option for loading and alleviated safety hazards from congestion in the original loading area.

Within a month of the first earthquake, the 728th AMS received 488 fixed-wing aircraft from 23 nations delivering over 15,700 tons of humanitarian resources, 4,000 passengers and 36 working dogs. These figures equate to roughly four times the amount of cargo the squadron process in all of fiscal year 2022.

“It was in that moment that I felt the proudest of my team who went from a workload that pushed 1,500 tons of cargo annually to receiving nearly that much relief aid in just a matter of days,” Holguin said. “Everything that we brief to our Airmen about being agile, mobile and skilled went from a squadron vision to an actionable task.”

The 728th Air Mobility Squadron is an en route squadron located at Incirlik Air Base, Türkiye, that consists of more than 200 permanent party, Turkish Nationals and Air Expeditionary Force augmentees at Incirlik AB who ensure safe and effective en route support for missions transiting Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia.

Operating under the auspices of Air Mobility Command’s 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing, the squadron supports five combatant commanders with aerial port operations, aircraft maintenance, and command and control.

“Our Airmen are the magic,” said Col. Dan Cooley, 521st AMOW commander. “The leadership, initiative, innovation and problem solving at all levels, especially the NCO and SNCO levels, made all difference when failure was not an option.”