GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (Oct. 17, 2014) -- Forty-four Soldiers from the 15th Engineer Battalion deployed today to Monrovia, Liberia, to provide construction support in actions directed against the Ebola Virus Disease.
The nations of West Africa, to include Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, are struggling to deal with treating and containing Ebola Virus Disease, usually referred to as just Ebola. Even with their combined governmental efforts alongside the American Center for Disease Control, Doctors Without Borders and the United States Agency for International Development, known as USAID, Ebola Virus Disease has claimed thousands of victims.
The engineer Soldiers are deploying as a part of Operation United Assistance, a U.S. mission that will provide direct and expedient support to West African governments and USAID.
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the largest Ebola outbreak since the virus first appeared in 1976. The first cases were discovered in Guinea, in December 2013, with the disease quickly spreading to neighboring countries as a result of poor hygiene and healthcare conditions in the region.
The virus is spread by direct contact with any bodily fluids of an infected person to include blood, sweat and vomit. But symptoms of Ebola that indicate illness don't begin until eight to 10 days after infection. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches which are identical to symptoms of many other diseases common to the region such as malaria or influenza.
While an individual might be a victim of Ebola, they are not contagious until symptoms begin to show. The easiest way to prevent becoming affected by the virus: practice good hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, and wear proper personal protective equipment, or PPE.
While Operation United Assistance will provide support to West Africa and international aid workers, U.S. Service members will not work directly with Ebola victims, and their duties will not put them at a high risk of exposure to the virus. However, before they deployed, the Soldiers from the 15th Engineer Battalion received hours of training on Ebola to include its characteristics and methods of prevention.
They also received a myriad of vaccines pertinent to the region such as malaria and yellow fever; all deployed with the necessary PPE.
Although quarantine procedures have not been finalized yet, every Soldier participating in Operation United Assistance will be properly screened and cleared after their mission and before returning to Grafenwoehr and their families.
The 15th Engineer Battalion Soldiers are among the first U.S. troops on the ground for Operation United Assistance, and will pave the way for larger units arriving from the United States. Of the 44 Soldiers, most are vertical construction engineers, who will be used throughout Liberia to build up infrastructure for follow-on forces and to build or improve treatment facilities for victims of Ebola. They do not have a scheduled date of return yet, as their mission set is very diverse and subject to change.
The engineers said they are eager to arrive and are prepared to be flexible when it comes to their scope of work and project list.
"The guys are excited to be a part of a solution to this problem," said Spc. Rasheen Williams, a carpentry and masonry specialist from the 902nd Engineer Company.
First Lt. Abraham Richardson, the engineer platoon leader in charge of the deployment team, has spent the past seven days working closely with his chain of command and battalion support channels to ensure his Soldiers are fully prepared. He called the mission, "a noble endeavor, an outstanding opportunity for the 902nd Engineer Company, and a great assignment for the Army."
Richardson's sentiments were echoed by Command Sgt. Maj. Chad Blansett, 15th Engineer Battalion senior enlisted adviser, as he addressed the Soldiers prior to their departure.
"We don't always get to do missions like this; take advantage of it. Do something good for your country."