By Gary SheftickOctober 15, 2014
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct 15, 2014) -- U.S. Soldiers in Western Africa are constructing facilities to treat Ebola patients and providing logistics, engineering and medical skills to help contain the epidemic.
Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams and Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Stitzel, of U.S. Army Africa, talked to reporters Wednesday, as they skyped from Monrovia, Liberia, to the Association of the U.S. Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition, at the Washington Convention Center.
"We think we're making a difference," said Williams, U.S. Army Africa commander and the officer in charge of the U.S. Joint Operations Center in Liberia. He emphasized that the U.S. military is there in support of local governments, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other non-governmental agencies striving to fight Ebola.
Currently, 539 service members are part of the U.S. military task force in Western Africa, and Williams said he expects that to grow to about 3,200 over the next month. When the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) headquarters arrives later this month, division commander Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky will take over the Joint Operations Center, Williams said.
Williams has been in Liberia for about 30 days now, and said much of the first two weeks were spent providing an assessment of what was needed across affected areas in West Africa, to include Sierra Leone. Facilities in the "hinterlands" often have different situations than those in Monrovia, Williams said, and sometimes jungles need to be cleared before construction can begin.
About two weeks ago, two U.S. Navy mobile labs arrived and Williams said those have shortened the time to diagnose a patient from two or three days down to about three or four hours.
A 25-bed military hospital also arrived about two weeks ago, and its erection is almost completed. It will be used to treat any health care workers who come down with Ebola, Williams said. Soldiers are also constructing several 100-bed Ebola treatment units across Liberia, to treat patients. Williams said the majority of those should be operational in November.
"We're moving gravel" and helping construct other facilities as well, Williams said. Construction continues 24 hours a day, he said, despite an 11 p.m. curfew in Monrovia. The Liberian government granted the U.S. military an exception to policy to speed up construction of treatment facilities.
The U.S. military is also ramping up efforts to train up to 500 health care workers per week, he said. About 200 of those would be in Monrovia, and the rest in other areas across West Africa.
Stitzel talked about the protective measures Soldiers are taking to ensure they don't contract the disease. They wash their hands often in chlorine, which kills the virus, and body temperatures are taken to ensure Soldiers don't have a fever -- one of the prevalent symptoms of the virus.
When notified, U.S. Army Africa moved quickly to deploy into West Africa. Williams said he received a briefing on a Sunday, and two days later, he and the command sergeant major were in West Africa.
"This is what we do," Williams said, explaining that U.S. Army Africa stands ready to deploy on short notice to provide "bridging and enabling" capabilities in response to a crisis.
And there's a real need for aid in West Africa now, he said. Deploying the task force to West Africa was "absolutely the right thing to do," Williams said.