Reflection from “PJ” Josh Webster in Turkey

24 October 2011

Nathan and I shouldered our backpacks for the last time until we would (hopefully) see them in Turkey. Dressed in khaki, with similar builds, similar haircuts, and similarly unshaved we must have looked like brothers to anybody else. We wore our Team Rubicon pullovers, awaiting the frigid autumn nights in the Eastern Turkey city of Van. Breakfast was still in our bellies, probably the last American meal for a week and a half.

A few people stopped up and asked where we were going. I don’t think they had any misconception that we were a team, a team of what I don’t think they had the faintest idea, but a team nonetheless. We were essentially wearing matching outfits, complete with coyote tan military-issued backpacks. We both wore mountain boots, and in Los Angeles they looked silly considering the fall weather was holding steady at a brisk 70 degrees. Our shirts said “medic” in 6 languages on the back, but we are much more than that. Nathan and I had just finished a technical rescue course for snow/glacial conditions and the city of Van, the earthquake epicenter, was expecting snow. High up in the mountains in eastern Turkey, Van was looking forward to terrible weather, and we were just the guys who you want to go in there. We’ve been trained in Structural Collapse, Confined Space, Rope Rescue, and we’re both Paramedics.

When we told people about the earthquake in Turkey most seemed to know. They had heard about it on the news and expressed sympathy. A gentlemen who worked for a consulting organization that hires military personnel approached us with his business card and offered to help us find work. He didn’t exactly say what job or with whom, purposefully intending on remaining vague and mysterious. We exchanged cards and I told him about our mission to Turkey. He seemed impressed, pocketed my card, shook our hands and departed. The funny thing was we had sat next to him 2 hours earlier at a breakfast cafe 5 miles away. Now we were across town, standing coincidentally in the same line for flights to Turkey. I had hoped that actress Ali Larter, who we also sat next to at breakfast, would have followed us to the airport to drop her card. Alas, Scott was charming but not my type(@Ali_Larter_…I was the tall blonde).

We slept most of the flight and awoke in Istanbul, preparing for our 17-hour layover before heading into Van, and then on to Ercis, the smaller town near Van that got hit pretty hard as well with a series of earthquakes. Every person we spoke to on the plane and in the airport knew what we were going to do. Most gave us a hearty “good luck”. A few gripped my arm and stared into my eyes pretty hard. They were usually older, more serious, and probably headed to Istanbul for vacation. They knew we weren’t on any sort of vacation.

Tonight we prepare contacts and connect with Turkish Emergency Management Systems (EMS). Part of our mission is to find out the extent of the damage, and to make a judgement call on whether to call for a larger element of Team Rubicon to deploy out here. After that we will integrate with the EMS and provide any technical rescue skills we have. We brought a rope rescue kit, medical kit, and skeleton media kit. With any luck we will find some friends who know where guys like us are needed here. Temperatures are expected to slip below freezing tonight, again. And winter is coming. (@GameOfThrones)

Joshua Maverick Webster
Director of Personnel and Readiness, Team Rubicon
Air Force Pararescueman “PJ”

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