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IZMIR, Turkey — The first U.S. military missions in Turkey after World War II focused on containing the Soviet Union just across the Black Sea.

Decades later, though the Soviet Union no longer exists, the alliance formed to face off against the USSR still thrives. In fact, evidence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s ongoing vitality is on display in Izmir.

“NATO, over time, has had to reconsider who they are and what their mission should be,” said Maj. Gen. Dave Clary, deputy chief of staff for operations for Allied Air Component Command Izmir. “NATO is looking beyond Europe to do what the allies think is appropriate around the world.”

So the relatively new headquarters for the air component of NATO’s southern region is in a good location.

Iraq and the volatile Middle East are a short distance away. Northern Africa, a key area of interest for the alliance in the coming decades, isn’t much farther.

That’s not to say that the organization’s journey from Naples during the last 14 months hasn’t hit a few patches of turbulence.

“It was hard,” Clary said in an interview this month in his office. “For a lot of reasons. We were busy. We had responsibilities. We were accountable for a lot of things.”

In fact, not many of those formerly assigned to Naples made the move to Izmir. Clary and his boss, Lt. Gen. Glen Moorhead, were among the few who did. And the process has been drawn out. It wasn’t until August that the last person assigned to Naples moved to Izmir. The command officially stood up in Izmir a year earlier, but is still only about 71 percent manned.

Many NATO allies used the move as an opportunity to switch out personnel. That leaves the new command with a lot of people learning their jobs.

“There’s only one way to gain experience,” Clary said. “And that’s time.”

Izmir is essentially a planning operation that can morph into an air component command when NATO decides to take some action. The U.S. and Turkey have the most personnel in Izmir, followed closely by Germany. All told, 17 NATO members have about 400 personnel assigned to the operation. A few hundred more are assigned in support roles.

A U.S. Air Force general officer — Moorhead — is the commander, with Spanish Lt. Gen. Carlos Victoria serving as deputy. Turkish Maj. Gen. M. Veysi Agar is chief of staff. Greek Brig. Gen. Zacharias Samaras is deputy chief of staff for support.

Izmir falls under the direction of Joint Forces Command Naples. The maritime headquarters is also in Naples. The land component is based in Madrid, Spain.

NATO also fields Joint Forces Command operations in Lisbon, Portugal, and Brunssum, Netherlands. Heidelberg (land), Ramstein Air Base (air) and Royal Naval Base Northwood, England (sea) are Brunnsum’s component command headquarters.

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