INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Though some may find it intimidating to step boldly into a foreign land, many choose to embrace their unfamiliar surroundings and experience what the region has to offer.
Recently, Airmen from the 90th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron plunged into local culture by participating in some of the customs of the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice holiday, known as Kurban Bayrami in Turkey.
The feast's origins come from the story of Abraham heading up a mountain to sacrifice his son, but his son's life was spared by God's provision of a ram. In a spirit of thankfulness during this festival, animals are sacrificed and the meat divided into portions -- some being kept by the family, and the rest given away to the poor.
The more the 90th EARS heard about the Feast of Sacrifice, the more they found it interesting and wanted to participate in some way as non-Muslims, said Lt. Col. Mike Moeding, 90th EARS commander.
Many 90th EARS Airmen noticed the parallels between Kurban Bayrami and Thanksgiving and Christmas with families gathering together and taking care of those in need, and how though the cultures might differ on small points, there are many similarities.
Capt. C.J. Hein, a 90th EARS KC-135 Stratotanker pilot, came up with an idea as he was passing through Adana, Turkey, on the way to Incirlik Air Base.
"I saw all these sheep on the side of the road," he said. "The cab driver explained why they were there and I thought, 'Hey, why don't we buy a sheep.'"
From there, the idea quickly took off. Several 90th EARS members donated money and a couple Airmen went to pick out a sheep with help from a Turkish friend, Hussein.
They donated all the meat from the sheep to local Adana families, rather than keeping some for themselves, according to tradition.
Many local shop owners said they had never heard of Americans buying a sheep for the Kurban Bayram and giving it away to the poor, and welcomed the Airmen's gesture.
One of the families that received some of the meat was a young woman and her husband, who had lost his leg and was unable to work and support their three children.
When the Airmen brought the meat to the couple, the woman was overjoyed and kissed several of them on both cheeks, Moeding said.
"Helping those in need is part of the custom during this holiday. This is a way for us to show goodwill through Turkish culture," Moeding continued. "We're not pushing the religious part, but focusing on the charitable part. We want to do something nice for the local community by partaking in one of their customs."
For the Airmen, it was also an opportunity to learn more about the history and culture of Turkey, Hein said. "We get to interact with them, bring our cultures together, understand each other better, and through doing so, take a step in helping make the world a better place," he added.