Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include changes at Aviano Air Base, Italy, related to DoD civilian retiree ID cards.
Military retirees living in Turkey have been put on notice that, beginning in fiscal 2024, they will not have access to U.S. military bases in that country — but they have just received a 3½ month reprieve from the original June 15 cutoff date.
The memo rescinding the Thursday deadline was issued June 13 by Air Force Col. Calvin B. Powell, commander of the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik Air Base. The restrictions are now scheduled to take effect Oct. 1. Powell’s original memo, dated May 27, gave retirees roughly two weeks’ notice.
“The United States’ bilateral agreements with Turkey do not permit U.S. Forces to extend [Status of Forces Agreement] privileges or access to installations, facilities and activities to retirees,” according to Powell’s June 13 memo.
Turkey isn’t the only country where changes are being considered. Officials at Aviano Air Base, Italy, are “looking into potential access changes,” said Air Force Capt. Mark Goss, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. “At this time we cannot confirm if/when this change may take place” at Aviano, he said. “If there is a change in installation access policies, wing leadership will communicate this to those affected.”
Goss later provided updated information about changes at Aviano. As of Aug. 31, DoD civilian retiree ID cards will no longer be valid, regardless of the expiration date.
These retirees will now be required to get a Real ID or Real ID Act-compliant driver’s license from their state, and must register with the 31st Security Forces Squadron Visitor Control Center, using their Real ID and a Standard Form-50.
“Installation access for DoD civilian retirees will be at the discretion of the installation commander,” Goss said. “Retired uniformed service members will not lose base access on Aug. 31.
“Any changes will be in accordance with U.S. and Italian installation access policies,” he said. “The 31st Fighter Wing will continue to work with the host nation to ensure all those who served continue to have access to Aviano Air Base, Italy.”
Changes in the Philippines regarding access to military postal services had also been in the works last year, but were put on hold.
For retirees in Turkey, it means they are prohibited from shopping at commissaries and Army and Air Force Exchange Service locations, according to Powell’s memo. Retirees also will not be authorized to use military postal services beyond Oct. 1. It revokes access to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System and ID card offices, the Tricare representative, legal offices, and every other service available on the installations and geographically separated units.
The new rules apply to Incirlik Air Base, Izmir Air Station and Ankara Air Station, as well as the 425th Air Base Squadron and 717th Air Base Squadron, two geographically separated units.
“This impacts a lot of retired U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force NCOs and their families,” said one retiree, who asked to remain anonymous. “Retirees have had access for years. Many living here depend on the APO lifeline for Tricare and VA medication refills.”
Express Scripts Pharmacy can only mail Tricare prescription medications to U.S.-based addresses, State Department Pouch Mail and APO/FPO/DPO addresses.
A big concern for him, he said, is voting. Retirees in Turkey and elsewhere rely on the APO mail system to vote in U.S. elections. The military postal service is more reliable for getting their ballots from local election officials in the U.S. and returning them in time to be counted.
In the summer of 2022, military retirees in the Philippines were told their military mail privileges would be cut off, but that decision was put on hold pending further review by defense officials.
According to Department of Defense actuarial tables, there were 121 military retirees living in Turkey as of September 2020. The new rules also affect their widows and dependents.
The number could be an undercount, the retiree stated, because it probably doesn’t count retirees who live in Turkey half the year.
Goss said the decision was a result of a “comprehensive review of the mission sets of the 39th Air Base Wing units in Turkiye, force protection conditions, resources and manning, and all relevant agreements, laws and regulations” to ensure compliance in international agreements with Turkey, and to ensure that their geographically separated units “remain effective in their mission.”
In effect, this allows base privileges for those from other countries, but not for military retirees, the retiree said.
“In Izmir, the U.S. air facility is about three miles from NATO Land Command headquarters,” the retiree said. “Its sole purpose is to support NATO. Now our allies can use the [exchange] and commissary, but long-serving American military retirees can’t. In Ankara, it is the same. While retirees in Incirlik have not had access for years because it is a Turkish-flagged air base, they have been able to visit Ankara or Izmir.”
Officials are not rescinding the retirees’ privileges per se, he said. “They’re just barring access to the buildings,” which has the same effect.
At Aviano Air Base, word has gotten out that changes in base access may be afoot, said the son of one military widow. His mother needs to be able to go the credit union and post office, he said.
“Her Social Security and survivor’s benefits come to her credit union [on Aviano], and they are getting more stringent about requiring account holders to come in person,” he said.
She’s elderly and in poor health, he said, and needs someone to drive her and help her about. But over the past year, she has also had more trouble in getting access for her sons to bring her on base, although they have U.S. passports.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.