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European edition, Wednesday, August 29, 2007

IZMIR, Turkey — It doesn’t take a lot of effort for a few hundred Americans to blend into a tourist city of almost 4 million people.

That’s just fine for the commander of the 425th Air Base Group.

After all, Izmir Air Station — for decades home to an American military presence — was hit hard by terrorism concerns following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The Defense Department closed down the DOD school and instituted unaccompanied tours in 2002, meaning that most of the 180 or so U.S. servicemembers who serve in the 425th or NATO’s Allied Air Component Command Izmir are only in the city for a year.

Lt. Gen. Maurice “Lee” McFann, commander of the NATO mission in Izmir, said he’d like to see American families return.

“I’ll ask the question again (to the Pentagon),” McFann said. “I asked last year and was told, ‘No.’

“I’m not optimistic.”

Despite the fact that many airmen are leaving family members behind, Col. Norman Potter, the 425th commander, said he’d like for those tours to be enjoyable.

“That’s always something that a commander looks at in remote tours,” he said. “You have to keep them busy. Keep them out of trouble. This facility is organized for that, because we offer them a lot of things to do.”

Potter’s office — and virtually all U.S. facilities in the city — are housed on Bayrakli Park. It was used for recreation purposes before 2002.

Though the new offices cut into some of the park’s space, there’s still a host of activities available on base. There are tennis and basketball courts; softball and soccer fields; a bowling alley; a swimming pool; a driving range and nine-hole mini-course for golfers; a library with thousands of books and DVDs; and a small movie theater.

Tony Lake, director of the group’s services division, said there’s even more to do outside the gates. Located on the Aegean Sea, Izmir is close to a variety of tourist destinations.

“We have almost endless things to do,” Lake said. “Every weekend, something is going on.”

Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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