Türkiye

I had been apprehensive about accepting a job overseas-especially in the land of the Terrible Turks-but I survived.  I even thrived!" ~ John D. Tumpane, Scotch and Holy Water

A Stranger in a Strange Land

I had to look the place up on the map.  The only thing I knew about Tyrkey was what I had seen on the movie Midnight Express.  When the Army asked if I would take Jonathon and very pregnant Kim, I immediately chose the fifteen-month unaccompanied tour. "Apprehensive?"  No.  I was dreading it.

What I found when I arrived was a beautiful country, filled with the most beautiful, hospitable people, with delicious food, pristine beaches, and interesting places to see.  Turkiye is both ancient and modern at the same time.  I fell in love with everything about it.  Since that first tour, I volunteered for two more tours, and would go back tomorrow if I were still in the Army.

Like Tumpane, I thrived.

First Tour, Unaccompanied, 1984-1986 (SSG-SFC)

During my first tour I was assigned as the Ops NCO, Headquarters Command, Land Forces Southeast Europe (LSE), outside the city in Sirinyer.   I rented a small, two-bedroom apartment, across from Alsancak Cami (mosque) just off one of the main thoroughfares in the city.  It was noisy, but I got use to it.  The Imam's morning call to prayer was my signal to get up and commune with the gods of running.  I ran a lot this tour.  Right down the street from my appartment was Kultur Park, which had a nice running track and a figure eight of roads running through it.  I think back then it was free admission early in the morning.  I'd be out there all by myself most mornings.

Culture Shock!

I arrived in Turkey not knowing what to expect.  From all the literature the command sent me, the process of signing in looked like an overwhelming series of tasks.  I had to find a place to live among the Turks, get the utilities turned on, take classes in the Turkish language, shop in a very small PX or Commissary or out in the Turk marketplace.  I wouldn't have a car, TV, or phone.  I would travel on a NATO bus to work and I had no clue how that was supposed to happen.

I was assigned a great sponsor, Rick Coburn.  He and his wife Liz taught me how to do things the Turk Way.  Within a few days I had a great little apartment on the economy, had all the utilities turned on, knew how to get to work, where the PX and Commissary were hidden, and had a membership to the Video Club. They took me all around the city, helped me in-process, got me started in my new job, and, most importantly, took me on my first trip outside Izmir to the ruins of Hierapolis above the city of Denizli.  After they left, I pretty much kept to myself, making a few friends at work, but mostly traveling solo and spending time alone.

My job was different than anything I had ever done.  My Bosses and I were responsible for moving the Alternate War Headquarters to a location, somewhere in Turkey, as a backup in case the bunkered HQ, called Disco Hit (Don't ask me why, because I haven't a clue) ceased to function.  This included vehicles from four different nations, officers and enlisted from all NATO/OTAN nations and the spectrum of war fighting jobs, all the communications needed to communicate worldwide, and a Turk security detail.  The whole thing was covered by a gigantic camouflage net, an amazing feat accomplished by the young Turk officers, NCOs and Askers.  Sometimes we moved this by road, but once, I moved it by Turk LST from Izmir to Tekirdag, up the Aegean, through the Dardanelles, and into the Sea of Marmora.  I was always a proponent for ditching the whole idea and setting up in a hotel somewhere close to the war if there ever was one.

I was also the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical NCO for the HQ.  The command sent me to Vilseck Germany to school and had me evaluate the HQ's defensive preparations and capabilities.  After making my recommendations, and meeting complete resistance, I suggested to the Turk 3-Star that, in the case of an attack, having not listened to me, that we should all just die in place.  I was quickly ushered out of his office by his subalterns.  One does not disagree with Turk Generals.  It turned out OK.  He was actually amazed that a Junior NCO would have the gumption to speak with such candor and he backed me up several times after that when I asked for changes.

Kim brought the kids over during the summer during this tour and we had a great time together. The Turks loved Jonathon and Elise.  We did a little traveling and visited Chios, a close-by Greek island, so they could stay longer without extending my tour.  Kim came back over at Christmas and spent a month with me.  We had a blast.

Second Tour, A Break After England, 1990 - 1992  (SFC-MSG)

During my second tour, I worked for Plans and Operations, NATO HQ, Land Forces South East Europe (LSE) in Alsancak.  I took Kim and the kids with me, this time for a two year tour.  I took every opportunity to goof off and spend time with them; I needed the break after the two years in the Parachute Regiment.  We lived west of the main part of town, in a thirteenth-floor penthouse apartment, with four bedrooms, a nice kitchen, two baths, and a balcony that went all the way around the apartment.  The balcony was large enough for the kids to ride bikes there.  It was a place designed for large gatherings and we made and entertained a large number of American and a few Turk friends.

The job was a no-brainer; any American Specialist could have done it. I mostly recorded, filled, and classified all of our products, which were exercise operations orders for NATO exercises in Turkey.  With the job came travel around Turkey in either one of the American General's C-12s or UH-1s.  We flew all over the place, traveling as far east as Erzurum, South to  Adana, and up north into Corlu.

Third Tour, Interrupted, 2000 - 2001 (SGM)

My third tour, I worked as the J3 Ops Sergeant Major for the new Headquarters, Joint Command Southeast Europe.  Two weeks after I arrived, I was deployed to Kosovo when the headquarters took over Command of KFOR-4.  Yeah, that was a huge, unwelcome surprise.  My plan to do fifteen months at the beach and combing the countryside for ruins ended up being only three months, but it was the best three months ever.

This time, because I was the Sergeant Major and couldn't really hang out with the enlisted or the officers, though there were some I liked very much, I made a bunch of Turk friends, and that, as they say, made all the difference. There were the models (not kidding), the math teacher, The computer genius, the Turk SGM, and the singer and her band who all became my preferred friends.

The job was supposed to be as J-3 SGM, but I ended up being the SGM for the whole HQ, now in a new building at Sirinyer Garrison.  It was like going back in time to my first tour.  Even many of the people I worked with back on the mid-eighties were there, mostly the ladies in HQ Command.

Ataturk, The Father of the Turks



You can't really talk about Turkiye, or even understand the place, unless you talk about Ataturk.

Mustafa Kemal is the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson of the modern Turkish Republic.  A hero of WWI and the battle of Gallipoli, he led the Turk forces who kicked the Europeans out of Asia Minor, deposed the Sultan, and became the first President of the Republic.  He, almost singlehandedly  moved Turkiye in to the modern age by instituting sweeping social, economic, and religious reforms.  He is revered by the people of his country; to talk badly about him in Turkey is a serious crime.

He was given the name Ataturk by the people which means Father of the Turks.  His mausoleum in Ankara is a place of pilgrimage for all Turks and friends of Turkiye.

 The Culture

The Turks are a proud lot.  They love their country, their culture, and their Republic.  Though a prominently Muslim nation, they are respectful and tolerant of  other religions and beliefs.  They are a giving and hospitable people, and enjoy sharing the beautiful things about their country to every visitor.  Turks always seem to be in a rush, but will stop and talk for hours over a glass of tea or cup of coffee.  They are trusting to a fault and can always be counted on to come through on a promise, but in Allah's Time, of course.  They will cut in front of you in lane at the Bank, Electric Company, or McDonalds, not because they are rude, but because they are in a hurry and would not presume to hurry you along, allowing you to relax and take your time.  Young people offer their seats to elders.  Men kiss each other on the cheek and hold hands as a sign of respect and close friendship.  They adore and spoil their children.

But, they can be aggressive, especially behind the wheel of a car.  I think it is the only place where they can still display their ancient warrior culture.  The Turks are, after all, some of the greatest warriors of all time.

When you visit Turkiye, you are immediately immersed in history.  The most ancient settlements yet discovered are just outside of Konya.  The Aegean and Mediterranean Coastlines are dotted with hundreds of Greek, Roman and Lycian ruins. 

Within a short drive from where I lived are the churches mentioned in John's Revelation, two of the Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Walls of Troy.  Large cities host museums and sites from pre-history, Archaic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman times.

The History
When I had a chance to look around Turkiye, I found that I was surrounded by History.  Everywhere I turned, there was a museum or ruin.  Five of the churches mentioned in John's Revelation were within easy driving distance, Laodicea was a pretty long trip .  I was living in the seventh, Smyrna.  Museums were all over the place covering every time period of Asia Minor.  Troy was just up the coast, though I didn't see it until my second tour.  One of the best purchases I made while there was a map of the Aegean Coast and a book called Ancient Ruins of Turkey.  I began to travel.

My process began to look like this: Buy a book on a site, study during the week, grab a bus to the closest town (Lutfen Efendum, Selcuk getmek istiyorum.), find a place to stay (Afedersinez Agabey, iyi otel nerede var mi?), visit the archaeology museum (arkeoloji muzesi), and then head to the site.  I would study the site the first day, reading about each stop.  The next day was for serious photography; no reading, just shooting.  I could never find balance at first.  I'd either study and forget to shoot, or shoot and never learn a thing.  My first trip, to Ephesus, was a mess.

By Pergamum, I had perfected my process.

Troy was a whole different story.

Ephesus

By far, the most beautiful ruin in Asia Minor is the ancient city of Ephesus.  I visited for the first time in 1985, my first solo trip.  I caught a bug, got off in Selcuk, checked into a nice little, family owned hotel, the Kale Han, and then began exploring.

A whole marble city lay before me to discover and photograph.  As heavily visited as it is, I soon found myself walking the backstreets where people hardly go.

The most beautiful building in the whole city is the Library of Celsus, the third largest library in the ancient world.  It was built to hold thousands of scrolls, but was destroyed by fire, either in an earthquake or by an invasion in 262CE.  I used to stand in the doors for long moments wondering what wonderful things had been lost in that fire.

 

Pergamum

One of the most impressive ancient cities of ancient Asia Minor was Pergamum, a gigantic city on top of a big mountain, above the modern day city of Bergama.  The climb to the top is a workout and I'd suggest taking a taxi up.  The theater was built on the side of the mountain and is so steep that I had vertigo and had to have a seat and wait it out. It could have been the climb to the top.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Temple of Zeus, was here, but is now housed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.  You can still see the foundation on the mountain.

Down in the valley below is the Asclepion, the ancient medical center.  It took me a while to find this.

 

Heirapolis

The ancient city of Hierapolis was built around the hot springs coming out of the mountain that rises above the modern city of Denizli.  This was my first trip and is, by far, my favorite place in all Turkey.  Over the centuries, the calcium infused water has cascaded down the mountain forming terraced pools of white, giving the place its modern name, Pamukkale or Cotton Castle.

When I was there, there was a small tourist hotel built around the Roman Baths.  You could still swim in the bath among the columns the fell in when it was destroyed in an earthquake.  We'd usually stay in the hotel a couple of nights, walk out in the mornings and evenings for a swim, and use the day to scour the ruins.  Once there were good restaurants and a fun club up on the mountain that made for some pretty nice evenings.  I wonder if you can do that now.

The Temple there, though small, is one of the best kept in all of Asia Minor.  The Necropolis outside the city is worth seeing.  There is an ancient church there, built over a tomb, that some experts say is the tomb of the Apostle Phillip, who, tradition says, was either crucified or beheaded in the city.  Everyone was really friendly when I was there.

Troy

My first tour, I had the opportunity to take a MWR Trip to the "ruins of Troy" for $20.  This included bus fare, meals, and entrance fees.  I elected to spend the weekend watching movies from the Video Club.

When I got back to the United States and the 82d Airborne, Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan War came out.  I watched the whole thing and bought the companion book.  I was sick!  What a missed opportunity!  I continued to study, reading all accounts of the war, reading a translation of Schliemann's book and everything else I could find. 

When I went back for my second tour, I made a bee-line to Hisarlik.

The ruins are really no reason to go; Schliemann made a mess of the place and destroyed much of the city of the War, thinking it must be much deeper.  You have to be, I think, in love with the story to enjoy the visit.  You must know the characters.

 I led three small tours there for friends and MWR after that.  I would go back there again, first, if I went back to Turkiye.

Traveling Turkiye

Travel in Turkiye is always an adventure and you must be flexible.  My weekends and holidays were spent combing the countryside for ruins, beaches, and hiking trails.  First I'd map out where I wanted to go, then catch a taxi to the Autobus Garage, tell the kids where I wanted to go, hop on the newest looking bus headed that way, pay my ticket, and sit back for scenery and map checks.  

I found that keeping a map and compass on you is a must, or you're likely to end up going past your destination before someone remembers your stop for you.  Another handy item is a book, in English, to open up on the bus.  There are always students along who will want to practice their English and that really comes in handy.


Once in your town, a smattering of Turkish and some decent hand and arm signals will get you to your market, beach, site, or museum.

A small Turkish phrase book is handy for finding a good hotel, the best food, shopping, and emergencies.  Murdering the Turkish language is never frowned upon, but considered a compliment that you care to try.  Be prepared for an exacting lesson or two if you get something wrong.  The point and read method hardly ever works; Turks will almost always insist that you try to pronounce your phrase.


If you're a photographer, another handy thing to have along is a bag, or two, of Tootsie Rolls.  They keep well in the Turkish heat, make for a nice treat for the Turk kids you want to photograph, and to occupy the cute little buggers while you're trying to take photos without them jumping in the field of view.

My favorite stories of Turkey come from those trips that went a little off track.  Getting lost, missing my bus, missing my stop, or running out of gas, have made for wonderful experiences every time.  Yep.  Flexible is the way to go in Turkiye.

Turkish Cuisine

To Me, Turkish is the best food in the whole world.  It is a wonder that I didn't come back from Izmir weighing 300lbs; I ate all the time and usually asked for double portions.  The vegetables and fruits are fresh and organic.  The dishes are well prepared, pleasing to the eye, delicious, and come with great names like "The Priest Fainted" and "Woman's Thigh Meatballs." 

I quickly found or was shown amazing places to eat in Izmir.  My Favorites are: The Altin Kapi for the Iskendar Doner, Miko's Grill for the Octopus Pie, and Venedik's for the Pizza.  The best of times were spent eating at a great restaurant for two to three hours, drinking and dancing till dawn, a walk along the bay at sunrise, and breakfast at a soup kitchen before heading back to the apartment.  All other things aside, I could live in Turkey for the food.

Three Tours and It Is All About the People

There are many great things about Turkiye, but, for me, the absolute best thing has to be the people that I met.  With each new person came a lifetime of memories, smiles, and stories.  With each trip came incredible adventures, new things to learn, and great personalities. 

Below are a my most important friends from those times.

Ellen

I met Ellen my first week in country while taking Turkish Head Start language class.  She was a communicator working at Alt War, the folks who set up the radio equipment for the Alternate War Headquarters and the Mobile War Headquarters.  I was in charge of moving the latter.

Ellen and I had a mutual love of movies, adventure, travel, photography, food, and we spent a lot of time traveling the countryside, seeing ruins, trying out the local cuisine, and learning to travel like the locals.

She was on her second tour in Turkey when Kim, the kids, and I arrived from England for my second tour.  We got a place just upstairs from her place. 

Vern

Vern was the Adjutant for the headquarters when I first arrived in Turkey.  He came over to introduce himself after I had words with the Headquarters Command Ops Sergeant when he "suggested" I wear Class Bs to work everyday.  I explained to him, "If I did, I'd look like you and the rest of the Nasty Legs in this outfit, so, that's not going to happen."

I think Vern, as a young 1LT, had had just about enough of this guy's crap and was happy to see a SSG stand up to him.  Whatever it was, we became fast friends and he introduced me to the best folks in the American community, taught me how to use the video club, and showed me a few places to eat that still remain my favorites in Izmir.

Murat

Murat was an Asker (soldier) in the Turkish Army Detachment at the Headquarters and the unofficial translator for my office.  Turk by birth, he was schooled in England, so his English was easily better than mine.

He and I scammed our way into an Istanbul trip during a NATO exercise in Corlu.  I paid the way there, then he and his folks picked up the rest of the cost of our three-day boondoggle...I couldn't pay for a thing.  We visited his family machine shop, his family tannery, his mom's boutiques, and his uncle's seafood restaurant on the Black Sea.

It was as if Murat knew every pretty girl in Istanbul, so when we went out at night, we went out in style.  Thankfully, we are back in touch through Face Book.

Gerry

Perhaps the craziest man I know, Gerry is my old Sergeant Major from my second tour.  He still lives with his wife Mukarim in Izmir so I spent time with him during my thid tour as well.

Gerry has made a life out of finding the best places in Izmir to eat.  I always trust his suggestions.  In this photo he is explaining the proper technique for cooking "salt fish" while I ignore him and scope out the local scenery strolling down the street.

Sevda

Sevda is my most faithful Turk friend. We met on the Birinci Kordon while a buddy and I played a little pitch with a baseball.  At that time she owned and ran a successful modeling agency in Izmir, Divas Ajans. 

Before long I was hanging out with her, going to shows and events, doing some photography work for her, and getting her web site up and running.  Taking photos of tall, gorgeous Turk Girls, that was a pretty good deal!

Since then she has spent some time in England and Germany, gotten married to an extremely lucky guy who looks exactly like De Niro (not kidding, her husband looks just like him), and now has a beautiful baby girl.  They're back in Turkiye, in Ankara.

Happily, we stay in touch on  Face Book.

Berna

One of Sevda's models and best friend, I met Berna at the same time.  I liked her immediately, but communicating with her was tough...her chosen second language was French and I gave that up in grammar school.  So, we "talked" using my smattering of Turkish and hand signals.

She is back in Izmir after living in Germany a while, married a good guy, and has a beautiful baby boy.  She and her husband are in the olive oil business.

Hopefully, I'll get to see her again one day; I owe her a tour of Izmir churches.

Handan

Walking down the Kordon with friends one evening, we heard Hotel California coming out of a bar.  The young Turk singing and playing the guitar was pretty good, so we sat down for a few beers and a listen. 

A few songs later, the next band took the stage and the singer was absolutely gorgeous.  Though everyone else in my group left, I stayed to hear her.  She was fantastic and her band was good as well.  Though I couldn't understand a word, I know talent when I hear it.  I began to frequent the bar and soon came to know all the members of the band.

I miss the nights I would walk into the Carnivale and have Handan greet me and dedicate songs to me.  I've just found her on Facebook and she is still singing. This is a good thing.  Handan is becoming pretty famous in Turkiye.  She's all over You Tube and I just bought a song off of iTunes.

Huseyin

I called Huseyin the NATO Godfather.  He could accomplish anything, especially with a computer.  I was always amazed at how much higher ranking Turk officers and NCOs would come to him when they needed something in the headquarters. 

We served together, not only in the NATO HQ, but in Kosovo.  We traveled all around the Countryside together, Huseyin driving and me pulling "shotgun."

Once back in Turkiye, I changed jobs, so we would only work together infrequently...certainly not enough.  BUT, when I wanted something done, and done right, the job went to UZI.

He is now married to an absolute doll and they have two beautiful children, JUST like I predicted when he would whine about being lonely while we were in Kosovo.  I love being right.

Sahin

This was my Turk counterpart in the HQ and while we were in Kosovo.  I've never met a smarter man.  He had ever military badge you can have in the Turk Army...making him a serious Kommando.  He was a published author with three books on Turk military history to his name.  

While we were in Kosovo, he insisted on communicating in English and refused to waste time helping me with my Turkish.  I figured out why a couple of months after we got there.  He demanded his soldiers study English for two hours every night while he taught.  After six months his English was amazing.

While we were there, he and the Turk Soldiers would invite "John Baba," a name he gave me meaning "Father John," down to the Turk NSE for Kahve or Cai so I could watch the Turk Music Channel on satellite; they knew my love for beautiful Turk singers.  After we returned to Izmir, Sahin invited me to his home for lunch, which lasted about 6 hours as we ate and his family and friends all came over, a few at the time, to meet his American friend.  I have never felt so honored and welcome an any man's home.

He is now a bigwig in the Turk CHP, the mTurk Democratic Party.  We, too, are in touch with Face Book.

He still calls me John Baba.

Smiley

I met this little lovely in a small bar called Sardunya, located on a back street in Old Alsancak, while having a beer with two buddies.  We all became fast friends and traveled the Izmir music scene together. 

She would usually call about the time I was ready for bed, saying she'd "found the Best Music."  I always went long.  Though her musical tastes were sometime suspect, her choices of restaurants and drinking establishments were impeccable. 

A mathematician by trade, she is as smart as she is beautiful.  I miss nights sitting on the couch, drinking, and talking philosophy, history, and arguing about misconceptions she had been taught about "American Imperialism."  I think she'd be happy that I've begun to take an interest in Math. 

I've lost contact with this one which pains me.  I'm sure she's out there changing the world for the better, one math equation at a time.