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728th AMS: 50 years of mobility support at Incirlik

By John M. Lacomia 521st Air Mobility Wing History Office

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For more than 65 years, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, has hosted many aircraft that countered the Cold War Soviet threat and has responded to numerous crises in the Middle East. From earthquakes, humanitarian relief operations, to wartime activities, Incirlik has been at the center of operations in that region of the world.

At the heart of operations at Incirlik is the 728th Air Mobility Squadron. An element of Air Mobility Command’s 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing, the 728th AMS provides en route support to aircraft passing through Eastern Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia.

The 728th specializes in aerial port operations, aircraft maintenance, and command and control. They also provide passenger and cargo services for all airlift missions that originate from, transit through or terminate at Incirlik.

Another function of the squadron is aircraft maintenance. The maintainers generate, launch, recover, service and repair C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. Lastly, the command and control part of the mission directs the operation of airlift support and all AMC aircraft landing and departing Incirlik.   

Appropriately, this 50-year old squadron adopted the motto “Strength Through Wisdom.” The squadron activated on January 6, 1966, as the 628th Military Airlift Support Squadron by the Military Airlift Command. Since their activation, the 628th MASS has provided critical aerial port operations keeping cargo, passengers and equipment moving throughout their area of operations.

In May 1971, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake rocked the city of Bingol in eastern Turkey. The earthquake destroyed 90 percent of the city, left over 800 dead and another 15,000 homeless. Less than two days after the earthquake, the 628th MASS played a vital role in the delivery of  more than four tons of medical supplies, tents, and blankets from Incirlik to Ankara for the Turkish Red Crescent Society.

In August 1978, Iran found itself confronted by Islamic revolutionaries. Violent protests spread throughout Iran that threatened U.S. citizens living there. They needed to be evacuated quickly.  

The U.S. Air Force used MAC C-5 and C-141 Starlifter aircraft to move more than 5,800 people out of Iran from December 1978 through February 1979. Airmen from the 628th MASS processed passengers as they came through Incirlik and on to other locations.

After the 1991 Kurdish uprising in Iraq, Saddam Hussein retaliated against the Kurds forcing almost two million Kurds to flee their homes into Iran, Turkey and to the cold mountain slopes on the Turkish border. The U.S. and five other nations partnered together for Operation Provide Comfort and began sending humanitarian relief to the Kurds.       

Personnel from the newly redesignated 628th Air Mobility Support Squadron once again transferred relief supplies from C-5s and C-141s to U.S. Air Forces in Europe C-130 Hercules aircraft. The 628th AMSS contributed to more than 7,000 tons of relief supplies and medical personnel to aid the refugees. Members of the 628th AMSS and Incirlik continued to play an integral role in succeeding operations (Northern Watch, Provide Hope) throughout the 1990s.   

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. led to a change from peacetime to wartime operations. During this same time, the 628th AMSS was redesignated the 728th Air Mobility Squadron.

As this war on terror intensified, the U.S. and its partners relied heavily on the Airmen at Incirlik. Throughout Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, the threefold mission of the 728th AMS was called upon repeatedly to keep the cargo and equipment moving. For well over a decade, the high operations tempo continued and the 728th AMS ceaselessly accomplished the mission. While the war on terror officially ended in 2014, the capabilities of the 728th AMS are still in demand.      

The 728th AMS has become one of the leading air mobility squadrons integrating expertise, innovation, compliance and professionalism in the execution of its mission. Five decades after activation, the 728th AMS continues to project rapid global mobility.

For their outstanding and gallant service during numerous contingencies, the 728th AMS has earned 17 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards and contributed directly to six Air Force Meritorious Unit Awards received by its’ parent wing, the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing.

After 50 years of service, the 728th AMS continues to gain “Strength Through Wisdom.”