Incirlik pulls together as hundreds transit base

  • Published
  • By Capt. S.J. Brown
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Airmen at the 728th Air Mobility Squadron passenger terminal are used to large crowds of people waiting to board an aircraft. They are used to endless piles of paperwork, luggage details and occasional irritable customers. Those are the things they are used to, but they live for events like those that happened July 25.

They began the process of expediting people leaving Lebanon by loading the first contracted plane with 272 people and more than 8,010 pounds of luggage.

"Imagine what they left behind if that is all they brought," said Master Sgt. Chris Pierce, passenger terminal supervisor. "Imagine being told you needed to leave and having to pack your entire life in a suitcase. We have more than 8,000 pounds of peoples' lives waiting to be loaded on that plane right now. It's surreal."

"We are used to dealing with a lot of people," said Airman 1st Class Robert Gilligan, passenger service agent. "This really isn't that much different. Sure, there are some differences like they don't have luggage tags for their bags and we aren't issuing them tickets, but other than that, we process them though the same way we would people traveling on the Patriot Express."

All passengers are expected to put their luggage through security screens and every person is expected to walk through the security gate. There is no special treatment because the safety of everyone is at stake, said Airman Gilligan, whose experience includes transporting Iraqi voters in 2005.

"These are people in emotional stress, they are tired, children are exhausted," said Airman Gilligan, one of 28 passenger service agents here. "We just want to make their transition as smooth as possible."

Along with the 28 agents, 30 security forces patrolmen and countless volunteers supported the transit. Airmen performed a variety of tasks and jobs -- some were luggage handlers, some were helping with security, some were even helping the concessionaire with food and beverage deliveries.

"It feels wonderful to be able to help and to get people to a safe place," Airman Gilligan said. "Most of us are either on our day off volunteering or have pulled a longer than normal shift just to help."

"Well, we didn't get enough sleep, but we are very happy to be here because it is safe and we are going (home)," said John Ayoub, who was traveling with his wife, Leila, daughter-in-law, Mirielle, and grandson, John Jr., to stay with his sons in Maryland. "We really thank the U.S. and the Air Force for taking care of us and for all the trouble they went through to get us here and on a plane."

The chartered aircraft took the people to Baltimore-Washington International Airport where they will catch connecting flights to awaiting friends and relatives. But until the plane left, they waited. There were plenty of volunteers to help ensure there was ample water, clean and stock restroom facilities, and answer people's questions. There were even 80 cases of free Girl Scout cookies for snacking.

"We are all pulling some long hours and hard work," Sergeant Pierce said. "But no one is complaining. As a tenant unit here, we appreciate the fact that so many 39th Air Base Wing personnel are helping us with passenger processing and safety. Team Incirlik really is a small base with a big heart working together to help someone else."