Soldiers from Fort Campbell, Ky., are comprising about half of the force deployed to Liberia to battle the growing Ebola epidemic.
“Secretary Hagel has authorized the deployment of 700 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division headquarters element to Liberia,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby announced Tuesday. “This element will deploy in late October and become the headquarter staff for the joint forces command, led by Major General Gary Volesky.”
Volesky used to lead Army Public Affairs.
“At the same time, the Army will deploy another 700 soldiers from various engineering units throughout the United States to supervise the construction of ebola treatment units, conduct site surveys, and provide engineering expertise,” Kirby said. “I want to once again underscore that these deployments are part of a whole of government response to the ebola outbreak. The U.S. military is not in the lead, but we are fully prepared to contribute our unique capabilities in support of our interagency partners.”
“This will not be an overnight process, but we are already making significant progress. Some 195 Defense Department personnel are now on the ground in West Africa. And over the weekend, the equipment for the 25 bed hospital and two mobile labs arrived in Monrovia. We expect the hospital to be operational about the middle of this month — sorry, the middle of October.”
Kirby stressed that “U.S. military personnel are not and will not be providing direct care to ebola patients.”
The announcement came hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday evening that the first Ebola case had been diagnosed in the U.S., a Liberian man who traveled to visit family in Texas.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), warning that “the Ebola epidemic in Africa is potentially as dangerous to the United States as the Islamic State in the Middle East,” noted “American cities are only one plane flight away from these infected countries.”
“An out-of-control epidemic in Africa could devastate entire countries, potentially creating new safe havens for terrorists,” Alexander added. “The United States knows how to protect our health care workers who are controlling the epidemic and the Fort Campbell troops who are providing logistical support.”
The first group of soldiers is headquarters-based, Kirby said, helping Volesky “command and control the effort.”
The other group “are largely engineers, just to help.”
“Because much of what we’re doing down there is creating infrastructure, or creating facilities that health care workers can use. And so, it would make sense that we would want combat engineers,” Kirby said. “Largely, they’re combat engineers. You know, we’ve got a battalion of C.B.s down there that are working right now on clearing ground and leveling ground to — to begin to prepare for these hospital units that will be built.”
After that, deployments will “come in waves” to actually build the infrastructure.
“We’ll continue to announce, as folks get down there, as you know, we’re looking at approximately, and it could go higher than 3,000 troops, eventually, could be detailed to this mission,” he said.
“All the troops that are going are getting trained on personnel protective equipment and on the disease itself. As we’ve said before, I mean, Secretary Hagel has no higher priority than force protection and making sure that the threat down there is the disease, it’s not an armed threat, and so just like any other threat, we take it very, very seriously, and we’ll make sure that they’ve got the protection that they need.”
As far as the length of the operation, “we’re looking at least six months, but it could go longer than that, depending on the needs of the mission.”
“Believe me, everybody in the military shares the same sense of urgency that everybody else does about this disease, and we’re contributing as best we can with the capabilities that we uniquely possess,” Kirby said.