U.S. Service Members Assisting in Turkey Earthquake Relief Efforts Receive Support from the USO

By Danielle DeSimone

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6, 2023, has officially become the deadliest earthquake on the entire globe since the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti. After just four days, the death toll has already surpassed 23,000, with 50,000+ others injured, without homes, or buried beneath the rubble.

Rescue teams are working against a ticking clock, all while subfreezing temperatures and lack of resources are making the situation all the more dangerous for both the rescue personnel and the survivors stuck under collapsed buildings.

The people of Turkey need help – and the United States has quickly stepped up to assist, sending aid and personnel to contribute to relief efforts. As our nation’s service members support our Turkish allies, the USO is right there beside them, ensuring that American troops know we have their back, no matter the mission or crisis.

How the U.S. Military is Supporting Earthquake Relief Efforts in Turkey

U.S. personnel as far away as Erbil, Iraq, felt the earthquake and its aftershocks, but thankfully, all U.S. military and USO staff members throughout the region were accounted for and are safe. Notably, no injuries or damage to infrastructure were reported from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, which is located only 10 miles away from Adana, one of the cities hit hardest by the earthquake in Turkey. Incirlik Air Base itself is home to approximately 2,000 U.S. service members and Department of Defense civilians, as well as our USO Incirlik center.

As teams on the ground prepared to assist in relief efforts, the U.S. Air Force quickly transported urban search and rescue teams, rescue equipment and humanitarian aid from the United States to Turkey, just one day after the earthquake struck.

Photo credit U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Faith Barron

American urban search and rescue teams flew in a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III to Turkey, where they have begun emergency humanitarian assistance in response to the most devastating earthquake to hit the region in almost a century.

These 170,000 pounds of humanitarian equipment included everything from concrete breakers and generators, to medical supplies, tents and water, to water-purification systems. The search and rescue teams from Virginia and California – made up of structural engineers, doctors, logistics personnel and technical search specialists – as well as a dozen military working dogs – also arrived at Incirlik Air Base.

U.S. military helicopters quickly began moving these first responder rescue teams into position immediately upon arrival to assist with rescue and recovery efforts, with more American rescue teams expected to arrive in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy Nimitz-class super carrier USS George H.W. Bush, which was in the Mediterranean Sea, has begun sailing toward Turkey to assist in the relief efforts.

Photo credit U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Marco A. Gomez

An American urban search and rescue member rests with her search and rescue dog prior to boarding a U.S. Air Force plane to Turkey to assist in earthquake relief efforts.

The conditions on the ground are challenging, and rescue and recovery work following such a devastating natural disaster can take a physical and mental toll on those working to save lives.

That is why it is crucial to provide support to U.S. troops working in earthquake relief in Turkey, so that they can remain steadfast in their mission – and feel the support of the American people, waiting for them back home.

How the USO is Supporting U.S. Troops in Turkey During Earthquake Relief Efforts

Even before this devastating earthquake, the USO had been supporting troops deployed to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey since 2016, offering resources and a home away from home to service members in a somewhat challenging location.

Photo credit Staff Sgt. Eric Mann

Service members deployed to Turkey find comfort at USO Incirlik, where they can relax and connect to home.

The USO Incirlik center offers service members a comfortable place to relax and recharge, other than their barracks, after a long day of work. Equipped with comfortable seating, a kitchen, televisions and entertainment, this USO center is a place for service members to turn to when they’re missing home. The center, run by American USO staff members living alongside the service members on-base, hosts regular events and activities to keep up morale and build a community among service members in Turkey.

This sense of community has been crucial in the USO’s support of the military’s earthquake relief efforts. As soon as troops began to prepare to mobilize, USO staff members leapt to action to ease some of the challenging realities of this mission. With the earthquake rescue units working on 24/7 schedules, airmen and soldiers are working around-the-clock as well. Many must remain on the flight line and are not allowed to leave to get food or take a break. Meanwhile, temperatures have remained well below freezing throughout the day and night.

But when service members can’t make it to the USO, thanks to the support of generous donors, the USO makes its way to them.

TSgt. Lopez volunteered with the USO to lead the charge on cooking hot meals for his fellow airmen and delivering them to the flight line, where service members are working around-the-clock on rescue and aid missions. | Photo credit USO Photo

USO volunteers and staff prepared freshly made meals and delivered them to the flight line, keeping these service members fueled throughout their 12-hour shifts. The service members were surprised at the delivery and incredibly grateful, but the burritos and sandwiches were more than just a hot meal – they were also a chance for these service members, who are undertaking an arduous and emotionally straining task, to take a break from their mission and recharge. They could share a moment of levity with their fellow service members and with USO staff members and, for just a moment, forget about the realities of the work they’re doing in rescue and recovery efforts.

TSgt. Lopez, who volunteered with the USO to lead the charge on assembling and delivering these meals, explained the impact they had on service members working non-stop.

Many airmen working on Incirlik Air Base in Turkey are not permitted to leave the flight line, where they are undertaking 12-hour shifts to aid in search and rescue efforts. So the USO came to them, delivering hot meals and a much-needed morale boost. | Photo credit USO Photo

“It was a small gesture that boosted their morale and re-lit the fire these airmen needed.”

The USO is also supporting some service members stationed in the area who were heavily impacted by the earthquakes. Most of the service members here lost a majority of their personal belongings due to destruction from the earthquake, and so the USO quickly assembled “morale bags” full of snacks and goodies to keep spirits high. The team also delivered plenty of blankets and clothes, as these service members lost most of their clothes in the earthquake. With freezing temperatures across the region, these resources can be crucial to the wellbeing of these service members.

Photo credit USO Photo

USO Incirlik, a permanent center on Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, is also supporting service members at an expeditionary site, where they lost most of their personal belongings due to damage from the earthquake. The USO has stepped up to provide these airmen with replacement clothes and blankets.

The USO’s support in these kinds of crises can sometimes seem intangible – what can a hot meal or a friendly conversation do, in the face of such a tragic and devastating natural disaster? But the answer is that whether it be in small gestures or big moments, the USO’s support of service members in front-line locations can do an incredible amount of good.

On some of the longest days, the USO is there to lift service members up, provide a sense of comfort and a home-away-from-home, and thank them for the incredibly difficult work they are undertaking for others. When another 12-hour shift of rescue missions looms ahead, the USO is there refuel our service members and make sure they can forge ahead.

As American service members and rescue teams continue to work around-the-clock to assist our allies in Turkey, saving lives in dangerous and challenging conditions, the USO will remain, as we always do, by their side, supporting them along the way.

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