Troops on quake relief mission touched by victims’ courage
June 11, 2006
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Okinawa-based Marines and sailors are nearing the end of their humanitarian relief efforts in Indonesia after the May 27 earthquake that killed more than 5,800 people.
“There are amazing stories wherever you look — a young mother was found outside a hospital laying a filthy mattress with a tube in her chest draining fluid into a bottle,” said Marine 1st Lt. Eric Tausch during a telephone interview from the village of Sewon, on the island of Java.
“She’d been there for two days and the local doctors were simply overwhelmed. One of our surgeons, Lt. Cmdr. Carlos Godinez Jr., was able to operate on her and relieve what was becoming a life-threatening injury.”
Tausch, a Marine spokesman, said U.S. military medical crews treated nearly 2,000 patients since they arrived two days after the 6.3-magnitude earthquake.
The Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade’s 172-member medical assistance team set up a mobile surgical and shock trauma center in the village’s soccer stadium.
“The initial injuries treated here included fractures, impact trauma to soft tissue and crushed limbs,” Tausch said. “But we’re now transitioning from initial trauma cases to post-disaster care, such as treating infections.”
He said tetanus has become a problem in the hot and humid climate where some people in more remote areas have had their injuries untreated for several days.
“One thing we’re doing now is administering tetanus vaccinations to everyone with open wounds,” Tausch said. “We came here with 1,000 doses and expect we’ll use them all up by the time we leave.”
Tausch said he has been humbled by his experience.
“The courage of the local people has been absolutely amazing to witness,” he said. “They’ve been through hell, lost nearly everything, and they’re sleeping outside in what used to be their front yards. Yet, you see them walk into the clinic, some of them suffering with ghastly wounds, and they all have smiles on their faces.”
Tausch said the medical team was looking forward to returning to Okinawa soon. The Indonesia government has announced that it will transition this weekend from the emergency phase of the relief operation to the recovery phase.
“We’re starting to see a dramatic increase in patients with ailments not related to the earthquake,” Tausch said. “So we know it will soon be time to pack up and return home.”
Meanwhile, two Marine Corps KC-130 Hercules aircraft from the Okinawa-based 1st Marine Aircraft Wing arrived at the Yogyakarta, Indonesia, airport yesterday with 11 tons of medical supplies donated by private American pharmaceutical companies to Project Hope, a nonprofit organization focused on health education and training with a humanitarian aid component, according to Marine Corps public affairs.
Since the relief effort began, KC-130s from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa, have flown 52 sorties in support of the ever-changing operation.