Titans respond to Izmir in aftermath of earthquake

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Lackey
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The 425th Air Base Squadron stationed in Izmir, Turkey, was affected by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that occurred on Oct. 30, 2020 near the city. Team members from the 39th Air Base Wing, headquartered in Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, responded quickly to ensure the 425th ABS’s safety, mental health and operational restoration.

A select team of Airmen were dispatched to Izmir to aid the geographically separated units stationed there within 48 hours of the event, and included command staff, engineers, finance specialist, mental health and a chaplain.

“Incirlik leadership was very quick to respond,” said Lt. Col. Dustin Thomas, 425th ABS commander. “Being geographically separated can leave you feeling like you’re on your own, but the team at Incirlik is very involved and it showed. I was conferencing with Incirlik leadership the day after the quake and they were offering everything they could think of to take care of any need we could possibly have.”

The earthquake epicenter occurred approximately nine miles off the coast of Turkey, but could be felt almost 200 miles away and damaged many buildings, eight of which collapsed in Izmir causing 114 related deaths and left over a thousand people injured.

“Directly after it happened, seeing all the damage and wondering if you were actually safe should another quake occur … it was a very emotional time,” said Tech. Sgt. George Covington, 425th ABS personnel section chief. “Your sense of security gets messed up and stresses you out, so it was relieving to see people from Incirlik come out so quickly and help us feel taken care of for those things we’re not fully staffed to do on our own out here.”

While many affected buildings remain structurally sound, the superficial damage was sufficient to render them uninhabitable, forcing residents to find temporary lodgings and even more to find new homes entirely. 

Incirlik based civil engineers were part of the team dispatched to access, document and advise on the status of Airmen’s homes in the area and the buildings used by local U.S. and allied military units.

“There is visible damage that looks worse than it is,” said 1st Lt. Julie Heiser, 39th Civil Engineering Squadron quality assurance flight deputy. “We inspected 21 government facilities and 13 homes this week and found all of them to be structurally sound. The damage was mostly superficial and is what we would expect to see after a building withstood a tremor like this. There is restoration work to be done, but I’m glad that everyone is ok and can return to work reassured the buildings are safe.”

While cracked walls and toppled belongings may be the most visible damage, the event may also leave some team members shaken up inside, so chaplains, a first sergeant and a mental health specialist were also made available to help those affected cope with the aftermath.

“A traumatic event can leave people feeling stressed and isolated, so it’s important to reach out as quickly as possible,” said Maj. Charu Stokes-Williams, 39th Medical Group mental health flight commander. “We are happy to lend support not just to the 425th Airmen, but also to U.S. Army and NATO forces stationed here that may not otherwise have easy access to emotional, spiritual and mental care assistance, because everyone should have the ability to get the care they need.”

The quick response and coordination of the 425th ABS and 39th ABW in response to an emergency situation has displayed a healthy state of communication, readiness and teamwork despite operating on opposite sides of the country.

“I’m really proud of the members of the 425th ABS,” Thomas said. “They are highly resilient and have quickly thought of helping not just fellow Airmen, but their neighbors and the people we work aside each day. It's also a great reassurance to see Incirlik support in-action, to note the morale boosting effects of showing concern and care for everyone affected. It tells me that no matter the challenge our team is up to it.”