Although they may not be carrying a rifle in combat, Soldiers of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases' Aeromedical Isolation Team serve a vital role in protecting the nation and world.
Their highly specialized mission is deploying and picking up someone who has been exposed to natural or man-made biological agents. With varied medical backgrounds, these Soldiers can be asked to respond to a mission anywhere on earth under many different circumstances.
They're one of only a handful of rapid-response teams in the world tasked with the critical duty.
"We have a huge responsibility," said CPT Rhett Robinson, AIT commander. "What happens if someone's sick' How are we going to contain them'"
The goal of the team is to get patients back to USAMRIID as safely as possible so they can receive medical care while being isolated from spreading the disease. USAMRIID has a self-contained isolation care unit - the Slammer. When a patient is in it, physicians and other medical professionals from Walter Reed Army Medical Center take on the 24-hour care and the Slammer becomes Ward 200 of Walter Reed.
Only some of the members work full-time on the AIT. Others are Soldiers who work at USAMRIID as medical technicians, veterinarians and laboratory researchers, among other jobs.
When patients are picked up, they are moved into isolators, which resemble hospital gurneys covered in plastic with a round, tube-like hole at the end for the patient to move through.
Teams must ensure when the patient is moved from a smaller one to a larger transport isolator that the seal isn't broken and the patient is not hurt. According to SSG Keith Kittle, AIT operations noncommissioned officer, this maneuver can be tricky since it requires knowledge of their equipment and problem solving together.
Although the unit hasn't been called to deploy, they have been alerted recently. After watching them perform in a recent training exercise, Robinson said he is extremely confident his Soldiers are ready to go.
"I have no doubt these guys can go out and do what they're called to do," he said.