Day 3 Turkey Operations Update from “PJ” Josh Webster

"PJ" Josh Webster

Joshua Maverick Webster is currently an Army Officer stationed in Vicenza, Italy. He recently spent 8 years as an Air Force Pararescueman “PJ” for the 131st Rescue Squadron in Mountain View, California. He previously served as an Army Ranger Team Leader at 2/75th Ranger Battalion and was released honorably after two combat tours in Afghanistan. He is a registered Paramedic and holds a B.A. in History from UCLA.

Team Rubicon’s scout team departed the city of Ercis in the morning. The local gymnasium had been converted into a makeshift hospital, and we had spent some time helping the Turkish EMS workers construct the tents that served as the individual “wards”. Inside these wards patients sat in beds with any range of illness or injury. A baby had a swollen wrist, and when she was X-ray’d I inspected the film with the radiologist. It appeared to be a minor bruise, nothing serious…she wasn’t even crying when we manipulated her hand. Another woman had a broken bone in her wrist, and we had called it from 50 feet away. My brother had just broken his wrist skateboarding and I had seen this 4 weeks earlier. The Turkish patient was walked back to the clinical ward, surrounded by a mob of nurses. All the while the domineering eyes of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk stared down from the gigantic banners of him on either side of the gymnasium.

As we left Ercis we weighed the possible outcomes of what staying meant. We could have stayed, and like the other non-Turks tried desperately to find a gap to fill. We could have driven around to more of the countryside looking for patients, but with a working roadway and an abundance of vehicles, the chances that anyone hadn’t been driven into Ercis hospital by now was almost zero. We could have tried to get into a SAR site and been part of a group that dug out one of the collapsed buildings, but with the rotations continuing between Turkish SAR teams, and the timeframe, we would have been essentially condemning ourselves to “body recovery detail”. The J.A.K SAR teams had taken over from A.K.U.T and mostly were digging with shovels and pickaxes anyways. They slowly worked over buildings, mostly pulling out mementos and family heirlooms from where they used to live.

Back in Van we showered and decide to remain in place for another day. The storm in Ercis had not broken yet, and the rain would surely be weakening the walls of the structures that remained standing. Some were badly damaged, and leaning over to one side, making them look like a person standing on both feet with a hip “kicked out” to one side. Nathan and I knew that the storm could “soften” the cement, thus causing one to collapse. We arranged a flight home, but wanted to make sure that we weren’t leaving too soon either. While in Van we did a city search to find the rest of the destroyed buildings there but found only a few. It seemed that Ercis, while originally not reported as the main disaster site, had taken the brunt of the earthquake. Van was practically running at full capacity, while Ercis was completely shut down, and reliant on the Red Crescent for water and food. Nobody cooked in Ercis, except at makeshift fires outside their tents. In Ercis, they slept in tents just outside their homes, and they showed no signs of moving back in anytime soon.