Incirlik continues helping Americans leaving Lebanon

  • Published
  • By Capt. Denise Burnham
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The new Incirlik Deployment Processing Center officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 30. Just a few weeks later, the facility is serving as a real-world reception center for 1,600 American citizens leaving Lebanon and seeking travel back to the United States.

More than 500 Airmen from Incirlik assisted the busloads of citizens who started arriving en masse around 3 p.m. today.

"When they first arrive, we put them in a holding area to start the accountability process," said Senior Master Sgt. Eric Stone, 39th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels superintendent.

"Then they start the processing line, visiting the State Department, Turkish Customs, legal, chaplain and whatever services they may need," Sergeant Stone said. "Once they reach the end of the line they are manifested for travel by our traffic management office. Each one of these players on the line has an intricate part."

For many of the travelers, the journey started days ago and finally arriving at Incirlik has been a long time coming.

"I was visiting my husband's family (in Lebanon) with my daughter and things started to get tense," said Donna El-Hashem, an American citizen from Haverhill, Mass. "We thought we were safe … then the situation went downhill and our feeling of security started to wane."

Mrs. El-Hashem and her husband and daughter began contacting the local embassy seeking information about evacuation procedures. The family was transported to Mersin, Turkey, via a Navy ship and then processed into the country by State Department officials and finally reached Incirlik this afternoon.

"Everyone in the military has been so nice to us," Mrs. El-Hashem said. "We just want to get back to Boston, hopefully. We are worried about our family left behind and we leave with trepidation."

To work an operation like this it takes a village, according to the chaplain services who were working overtime to make sure families' wellness and spiritual needs were taken care of as well as their physical needs.

"It's phenomenal to see how Team Incirlik goes way above and beyond, not only the extra mile, but the extra five miles," said Chaplain (Maj). Kenneth Reyes, 39th Air Base Wing senior chaplain. "We're going to make it happen for these folks without missing a beat with our regular mission either."

The 39th Security Forces Squadron and the State Department Security Service are working hand-in-hand to ensure accountability of all the personnel who step onto the base.

"We start escorting them at the gate, working with the Turkish Air Force, and then we help get them to the deployment processing center. After that it's on to Patriot Village," said 1st Lt. Jason Grubb, 39 SFS flight commander. "It takes the whole squadron working together."

Long days are hard on the parents but even harder on the children. The 39th Mission Support Squadron Airmen Family and Readiness Center set up several areas for the youngsters to play.

"When we were in Beirut, we put cartoons on the TV. We didn't want our children to know what we knew," said Nahi Hatoum, a Lebanese-American who was waiting in the processing line at Incirlik. "Now we are going to Detroit to live."

The Hatoums had already planned to move to Detroit after visiting the city over the Christmas holiday. They had sold their home and ironically had plane tickets to the U.S. on the same day they were waiting to process the line at Incirlik.

One part that made the day easier for the arrivals was hearing some familiar phrases from one of the medical providers stationed here.

"When the citizens come through they are surprised when I start talking to them," said Capt. (Dr.) Alfred Khallouf, 39th Medical Group general dentist and native of Syria. Captain Khallouf fluently speaks Arabic and has been processing people all day and attending to their medical needs.

"I just try to tell them in Arabic ‘God will take care of you' and it gives them a good surprise," he said. "It just gives them something that feels familiar while they're here, so far away from home."