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How the US military is sending life-saving assistance to Turkey after a devastating earthquake

Two C-17s carrying rescue teams and medical equipment arrived at Incirlik Air Base on Wednesday.
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Turkey earthquake
Members of the United States Agency for International Development’s Disaster Assistance Response Team arrive at Incirlik Air Base, Türkiye, Feb. 8, 2023. (Senior Airman Joshua T. Crossman/U.S. Air Force)

With Turkey still reeling from Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake that has killed more than 11,000 people, U.S. service members and aircraft have worked quickly to transport two Urban Search and Rescue teams and other emergency assistance to the area.

“U.S. European Command extends our sincerest condolences and we express our deep sadness at the tragic loss of life as a result of the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria,” the command said in a statement on Wednesday. “Using a whole of government approach, we remain in close contact with our Turkish Ally to determine what assistance is needed to help those affected by the disaster.” 

Two C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft arrived on Wednesday at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, carrying 161 people with the rescue teams, along with 12 working dogs, and roughly 170,000 pounds of humanitarian equipment, according to the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik.

The two Urban Search and Rescue teams consisted of 79 people from Fairfax County, Virginia, and 82 people from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, defense officials said. The teams are made up of structural engineers, doctors, logistics personnel, and technical search specialists.

“We’re committed to assisting Türkiye’s affected communities in every way possible as they grieve and begin to recover from the devastation caused by the recent earthquakes,” Air Force Col. Calvin Powell, commander of the 39th Air Base Wing, said in a news release. 

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“The U.S. Air Force brought [the] United States Agency for International Development’s Disaster Assistance Response Teams from the East and West coasts of the United States to Incirlik Air Base today to join the international effort to assist the people of Türkiye,” Powell continued. “The Airmen of the 39th Air Base Wing stay ready to respond in support of our allies along NATO’s southern flank.”

On Tuesday, the two C-17s took off from March Air Reserve Base, California, and Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, according to U.S. Transportation Command. One plane came from the Alaska Air National Guard. The other C-17 came from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. Both planes were flown by active-duty pilots.

Airmen from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron at Dover loaded the rescue teams and cargo onto one of the C-17s. The emergency assistance includes rescue equipment such as concrete breakers and generators as well as medical supplies, tents, water, and water purification systems, according to the 436th Airlift Wing.

“In our profession, nothing is more noble than delivering humanitarian aid to those in need, and we are proud to support our ally Türkiye,” Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, head of U.S. Transportation Command, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Members of the 728th Air Mobility Squadron at Incirlik also received a Disaster Assistance Response Team that was deployed to Turkey by the United States Agency for International Development, a news release from the 39th Air Base Wing says.

The team will work with Turkish authorities as well as other U.S. government agencies and partners on the ground to assess the situation, identify priority humanitarian needs, and help with search and rescue needs, USAID Administrator Samantha Power said on Monday.

“As rescuers attempt to save those still trapped in the wreckage and families who’ve lost their homes seek refuge, the United States is committed to providing immediate, life-saving humanitarian assistance on both sides of the border to help communities recover from this disaster,” Powers said in a statement.

U.S. rotary-wing aircraft based at Incirlik also flew first responders to parts of Turkey that were most significantly affected by the earthquake on Tuesday, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman.

U.S. European Command is deploying a team to Incirlik on Thursday that will help the United States Agency for International Aid’s quick response team that is already on the ground, and the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush is moving toward Turkey so that it can be ready if Turkey requests more assistance, Ryder told reporters during a Wednesday Pentagon news briefing.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to lean forward, to be responsive to their requests and help them as they try to save lives and recover,” Ryder said.

UPDATE: 02/08/2023; this story was updated on Feb. 8 to include comments from Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder.

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