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Military Personnel Rush to Support Turkey

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 1999 – More than 9,100 have been confirmed dead and as many as 35,000 people may be trapped under wreckage as a result of the earthquake that struck northwest Turkey Aug. 17. Turkish authorities reported more than 25,000 people are injured.

U.S. military and civilian personnel are helping the Turks cope with the disaster. DoD calls its portion of the humanitarian mission Operation Avid Response.

A U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy transported a Virginia search and rescue team to Istanbul. The 70-member team has five specially trained dogs to find trapped people.

Pentagon officials ordered the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group to sail to Turkey to provide assistance. The group -- the USS Kearsarge, the USS Ponce and the USS Gunston Hall - - has the 2,100-member 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard. The Marines were among the first Americans into Kosovo as part of Task Force Falcon. The group will arrive off the coast of Turkey Saturday night. Joint Staff spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jim Brooks said the Marines will stand by to render assistance when asked.

There are comprehensive medical facilities aboard the three-ship group, including 631 beds, six operating rooms and five X-ray rooms. There are eight doctors, three dental officers and 88 corpsmen aboard the ships.

The Kearsarge group also has 22 helicopters that can aid in medical evacuations. "All of this is inherent in the make- up of the Amphibious Response Group," Brooks said. Any request for the resources of the group would go from the Turkish government to the U.S. State Department to DoD.

"In addition, the European Command has deployed a 22-member Navy crisis response team that includes a three-member medical assessment team in order to survey the situation," said Defense spokesman Ken Bacon. The Navy Surgical Response Team from Naval Hospital Naples includes doctors, nurses and corpsmen, an oral surgeon and a dental technician. This is the first operational deployment for the team, U.S. European Command officials said.

The Air Force is sending a humanitarian assistance survey team of approximately 20 people from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey to provide an on-site assessment to determine military capabilities required to support ongoing disaster relief operations. Included in the team will be troops trained in water assessment, structures assessment and construction and radio communications.

DoD has 475,000 humanitarian daily rations in Europe that can be sent to Turkey if needed, Bacon said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has teams standing by to offer construction expertise. The teams would analyze structures still standing to see if they are safe or must be demolished.

Turkish officials requested firefighting planes from the U.S. Air Force to help contain oil refinery blazes. Air National Guard C-130s were notified for deployment, but the move was canceled after Turkish firefighters brought the blazes under control.

DoD is looking beyond the search and rescue phase of the operation. "Obviously, we'll have to concentrate on providing shelter and food," Bacon said. "Our embassy in Turkey has requested 30,000 tents, and the military is in the process of working to find these tents."

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