Sixth Fleet And Marines In Turkey Provide Earthquake Relief

By Capt Gabrielle Chapin - Originally published in the November 1999

Three U.S. Sixth Fleet ships and the 2,I (X) embarked Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) were ordered Aug. 19 from Spanish port visits to the vicinity of Istanbul, Turkey, in response to the aftermath of the August 1999 earthquake in western Turkey.

The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce (LPD-15) and the dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) assisted in the ongoing humanitarian and medical relief assistance in the region.

The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and its embarked 26th MEU (SOC)'s comprehensive medical facilities enable the ships to provide effective care and disaster relief in support of humanitarian missions.

The three-ship flotilla contains approximately 631 beds, six operating rooms and five X-ray rooms. Also, eight medical doctors, three dental officers and 88 medical corpsmen are assigned to the ships.

Kearsarge has 22 helicopters, and its 819-foot-long flight deck can support multiple medical evacuations. Ponce and Gunston Hall also have flight decks capable of supporting helicopters.

The Kearsarge ARG and the 26th MEU (SOC) were critical to the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization operations in Kosovo, as part of NATO Operation Allied Force.

AV-813 Harrier attack jets from the 26th MEU (SOC) conducted air strikes in Kosovo and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As part of NATO Operation Allied Harbour, Kearsarge ARG sailors and Marines provided critical logistical and medical support to Kosovar refugees. The 26th MEU (SOC) was also the first U.S. peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

"We are considered to be a certain force in an uncertain world. Its our job to be prepared at a moment's notice," said Colonel Kenneth J. Glueck, the 26th MEU (SOC) commander. "We're going to be there to do whatever we can to help."

In Turkey, the quake's epicenter, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, was centered within a city of one million people and caused severe damage across western Turkey. The USS Kearsarge ARG was ordered to the region in response to requests by the Turkish government.

"I know our Navy-Marine Corps team will make a difference," added Col Glueck.

The Kearsarge ARG arrived off the coast of Turkey Aug. 21.

The Kearsarge ARG's main mission is to load, transport and land Marines and their equipment in support of amphibious operations. While serving as the command ship of Amphibious Ready Group Two, Kearsarge can command and support all elements of a more than 2,000-Marine landing force on peacekeeping or assault missions. One thousand sailors and 2,100 Marines are embarked in the ships.

The Kearsarge ARG home ported in Norfolk, Va., left the Hampton Roads, Va., area in mid-April and has been forward-deployed to the Mediterranean as part of the U.S. Sixth Fleet.