LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
The term “family man” is used a lot today in America. But what makes a “family man”? One particular chief master sergeant thinks a family man is all about how one treats others.
To Chief Master Sgt. Allan Turk, who is retiring after completing a 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, being a part of the Air Force family for more years than not, and taking care of Airmen is just as much being a family man as it is raising children of his own. Turk looks back at the culmination of his career with pride.
Initially he joined to get an education, to have steady income and to become a Federal Aviation Administration rated air traffic controller. But what kept him around was the family. Every Airman belonging to the same Air Force, working toward the same goal for the same country. This aspect makes it difficult for Turk to hang up the uniform for good.
“I have been hearing for years that ‘you’ll know when it’s time to go,’” he said. “When people drop their retirement paperwork, they’ll say ‘you’ll know when it’s time to go.’ Well that hasn’t happened yet. I really enjoy what I do, and I’d stay forever if they’d let me.”
Turk said, however, serving for 30 years is no easy task. Jennifer Turk, his wife, accounted for the time that he’s been away due to remote assignments, deployments and temporary duties. She said that he’s been away for an accumulated total of more than six and a half years over the course of their marriage.
“I’ve had my opportunities to get out and hone my skill and work on the civilian side, but I chose not to,” Turk said. “I’m humbled that I had the opportunity to serve this long. Not many people get the chance, or take the opportunities to make it this far. You have to be all in. You have to be dedicated and you definitely can’t fake it. You need to care.”
Turk is the chief controller for Laughlin’s radar approach control, or RAPCON, and is in charge of Airmen that make sure local pilots navigate the local area safely – Airmen who see more than 46,600 sorties per year, making Laughlin the seventh busiest active air field in the Air Force. But, it all boils down to the Airmen the chief has been placed in charge of on a daily basis. To him, they are family too.
“He’s a patriot,” said his wife. “He loves his country and he loves serving. It might sound hokey, but it’s the truth. The Air Force is our family.”
According to statistics published by the Air Force Personnel Center, Turk has been serving for longer than nearly half of the enlisted Airmen currently serving have been alive. Over the years of his faithful service he has seen the Air Force in various stages of its life, during the ups, downs and everything in between.
“I remember when they first came out with the airman performance report system,” Turk recalled. “Then they changed it to the enlisted performance report, and now they’re changing it again. So I’ve outlived the EPR cycle. I’ve been around for a long time. But one thing that always stayed the same is that our Airmen always do amazing things every single day.”
Turk thought back to moments in his career where the big picture became clear; the way each cog in the Air Force machine fit perfectly to accomplish the mission. He recalls a story of being at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, as a young Airman working in the RAPCON.
A pilot in his airspace wound up in a freak snowstorm and quickly became lost, threatening the safety of those aboard the aircraft. Turk did as he was trained and guided the pilot away from danger and back on his way.
“A couple hours later, he came back on my frequency, recognized my voice and said, ‘Hey, you’re the same guy that helped us out of that snowstorm,’” Turk said. “I gave him a smart-aleck remark, like ‘Yeah, I’ll be here all night, too.’”
As the pilot tried to thank Turk for the assistance, the importance of the job came quickly into focus for Turk, who saw nothing special of the encounter. The young Airman who was “just doing his job,” got an aircraft to safety that was transporting a liver to a young girl in dire need.
Turk said that instances like these are why the Air Force does what it does.
As he transitions out, his hopes lie in the generation of Airmen to continue to foster a family-like culture. He urges Airmen to make the right decisions, and to encourage wingmen to do the same. “Open-book tests,” as he calls them, such as drug abuse, driving under the influence and other offences should be non-issues, and there should be no reason for people to let their wingmen fall victim to those traps.
Airmen currently serving have heard the briefings time and time again, stressing the importance of wingmanship and looking after one another, but for Turk it was more than briefings. As someone who has dedicated the majority of his life to an organization, he wholeheartedly believes that wingmanship is the way forward for the Air Force.