We were walking into the unknown, unaware of the destruction that awaited us out there amongst the rubble. Without knowing our fate, we banded together with the vision of saving lives clear in our minds. 

Our journey into the unknown lay ahead. With 25 orange-clad volunteers, 10 tons of supplies, and an army of hundreds supporting us as we departed Israel. The mission was clear…we were going to save as many lives as we could.

Without any full understanding of when we’ll depart and even where we’ll land, we prepped our supplies. The flight was a blur; the only thing we could all think about was the mission at hand. As we arrived at the disaster zone, our senses were lit up with the harsh smells and the sights of a ruined city. We met people who were in shock, people who were searching for a glimmer of hope amongst the dusty ruins of their city. 

We stormed into the disaster zone with our sleeves rolled up. All around us, the air was thick with grief, but there were still citizens determined to do their part. We saw locals holding each other. We gave them a smile and as they looked back on a wave of orange, we saw a spark return to their eyes. That is when the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit began to engage with the affected population to provide psychological first aid.

We worked tirelessly through the night to rescue people from the destruction. We treated the crowds of strangers who came to us, the orange volunteers, to seek medical assistance and comfort. This was the first time many of the locals had ever met Israelis before. It must have been a shock for the locals since these Israelis they met were the people who pulled their neighbors out of crumpled buildings alive and helped comfort them in their endless grief. 

When we left Turkey, we were proud because we knew that we left dozens of people alive, treated, and comforted. We thought of the lives we saved and the lives we fought to save as we left. But, it was time for us to step back and go home to our families. 

So, thank you to the true heroes. Thank you to their family members who allowed them to travel to Turkey. Thank you to those who worked for hours to organize and arrange the team’s transport. Thank you to the heroes that dug, extracted, and treated the many injured victims. You are all what makes Israel strong. You are the beautiful side of this nation. You prove the values of our organization to the public by working hard to better the world.

Congratulations to the brave United Hatzalah volunteers who are always ready to save lives.

Yossi Cohen is an EMT with United Hatzalah in Ra’anana, a Major (res.) In the IDF Home Front Command and served as the commander of United Hatzalah’s rescue mission to Turkey.