INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey, Dec. 5, 2016 — The annual Chairman’s USO Holiday Tour kicked off here today with a performance for troops taking the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his wife, Ellyn, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell and his wife, Sandra, are leading the tour that features actors Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans; Olympic gold medalist Maya DiRado; mentalist/entertainer Jim Karol; country music star Craig Campbell and NBA legend Ray Allen.
Traditional USO Trip
The USO holiday trip is a tradition that goes back to former Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers in 2003.
“It’s a good way to meet the troops, hear what’s on their minds and say thanks,” Dunford said.
Upon arrival at Incirlik, the chairman met with his counterpart, Turkish Army Gen. Hulusi Akar. The general was visiting Turkish troops here at the base and the two military leaders discussed current operations, said Navy Capt. Gregory Hicks.
The Incirlik airbase is a hub in the counter-ISIL campaign. American Air Force, Marine and Navy aircraft are hammering ISIL forces in Iraq and Syria 24/7, said Air Force Col. David Trucksa, the commander of the 447th Air Expeditionary Group here.
‘No Change of Pace Here’
“The war is still going steady,” he said. “No change of pace here.”
There have been changes at the Incirlik airbase, officials said. Before the attempted coup against the Turkish government in July, this was an accompanied tour for U.S. airmen. Now, it is a one-year unaccompanied tour.
Operational units cycle in and out as needed, Trucksa said. Currently, he said, the Maryland Air National Guard is flying A-10 Warthogs against ISIL positions, Air Force reservists and active duty from around the United States are “passing the gas” to the combat aircraft and Marine Prowlers from Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, North Carolina, are providing the electronic counter-measures. U.S. Army helicopters also bed down here, as do some Navy aircraft. The air base also launches remotely piloted aircraft.
“We have a bit of everything, Trucksa said.
The base itself is under U.S. European Command, but Trucksa’s troops are under U.S. Central Command’s operational control.
It is also an international effort. German and Spanish airmen and soldiers were just as excited to see Captain America and The Black Widow as the American personnel. The Germans fly missions against ISIL and the Spanish provide Patriot battery protection.
Morale is Good
The USO show was held in a hangar, and the sound of jets taking off to strike ISIL sometimes drowned out the music.
Morale is good, Trucksa said, saying the mission has forged strong ties among the airmen at the base.
“Typically over the holidays, it can be a little bit depressing being away from home, but the unit cohesion here is pretty amazing,” he said. “Over Thanksgiving, we did 24 hours of turkey in Turkey — every four hours … someone would bring out a turkey and all the sides. The day guys were cooking during the day and the night guys were cooking at night. We had 24 hours of constant food. It was fun.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)