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Some Incirlik people return to United States

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- An American Red Cross Disaster Relief worker provides a sandwich to a former resident of Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. More than 1,300 Air Force family members and nonmission-essential civilian employees from the base arrived at Charleston International Airport, S.C., on March 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dominic Hauser)

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- An American Red Cross Disaster Relief worker provides a sandwich to a former resident of Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. More than 1,300 Air Force family members and nonmission-essential civilian employees from the base arrived at Charleston International Airport, S.C., on March 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dominic Hauser)

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFPN) -- Master Sgt. Steven Foster, a 437th Mission Support Squadron Air Force Aid officer, helps a young family member from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.   More than 1,300 Air Force family members and nonmission-essential civilian employees from the base arrived at Charleston International Airport, S.C., on March 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jennie Ivey)

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFPN) -- Master Sgt. Steven Foster, a 437th Mission Support Squadron Air Force Aid officer, helps a young family member from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. More than 1,300 Air Force family members and nonmission-essential civilian employees from the base arrived at Charleston International Airport, S.C., on March 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jennie Ivey)

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFPN) -- The first of several flights contracted to bring more than 1,300 Air Force family members and nonmission-essential civilian employees from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, arrived at Charleston International Airport, S.C., on March 21.

Armed with teddy bears, cell phones and dog biscuits, more than 100 people from the base here plus local American Red Cross workers met the first 312 passengers, including 167 children and four pets.

The voluntary return of people is in response to increased security concerns, and allows family members and civilian employees the option of leaving Turkey.

Passengers stepped off the plane to find everything they needed to help them make a comfortable transition from Charleston to their chosen U.S. "safe havens." People from across Charleston AFB greeted individuals with financial help, plane tickets, hotel reservations and warm cups of coffee.

"We're here to provide comfort services to help families come back to America at a stressful time," said Ben Myers, director of disaster services for the Lowcountry Chapter of the American Red Cross. The chapter donated more than 500 teddy bears for children coming off the planes.

"It was a long trip back," said 5-year-old Alex, who was all smiles as he clutched a teddy bear. "I just can't wait to have spicy meatballs and go fishing."

But the safety and care of children were not the only things on the minds of volunteers. Veterinarians were standing by to provide services needed to keep the animals accompanying the families healthy, safe and happy.

"For a lot of people, bringing their animals is just as important as bringing their kids," said Army Capt. April Ulmer, 437th Services Squadron veterinarian. "And animals can have a lot of the same health problems humans have, but we're ready with first-aid kits. We're also here to feed, walk and groom them before matching them back up with their owners."

Family members receive full travel per diem for the first 30 days here, according to Air Force Personnel Center officials. From days 31 to 180, they will receive 60 percent of the per diem. Also included in their initial entitlements is a maximum $10 per-day local travel allowance.

"The safe haven entitlement (enables) these family members to live comfortably while they are separated from their (home, schools, friends, neighbors and community)," said Peggy Rayfield, from the AFPC's family matters operations section.

When families leave the Charleston area, they are not alone.

"No matter where the family goes in the U.S., Air Force family support centers will be keeping an eye on them," said Fora Hoss-Mason, 437th Mission Support Squadron Family Support Center director. "Once families leave Charleston and arrive at their safe-haven location, the closest FSC contacts them to offer assistance and connect them to Air Force community."

Although Department of Defense officials said there is no specific threat to American military forces in Turkey, there is a general threat of danger to the Americans in southeast Turkey. Officials emphasized the cautious thing to do to keep families as safe as possible is to take them to a safe haven in the United States.

"There are a lot of people with mixed emotions," said Chaplain (Capt.) Chuck Knauer, 437th Aerial Port Squadron chaplain. "They're tired and anxious, but we're here to meet their total needs. If we get them safely back home, then we've done our job."

Despite a long 18-hour flight, many people were in good spirits.

"It went very smoothly," said Michelle, a returning family member, pregnant with her first child. "It was a hard decision. I left the most important thing (her husband) behind."

Michelle added that she never felt threatened in Turkey and would "definitely go back." But most importantly, she, and many others, just wanted their family members and the armed forces overseas to "make (the war) quick so you can all come home."

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