The Pentagon said today that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has received the recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to quarantine returning personnel from Africa, yet is still deciding how to proceed.
The Army is already using quarantine procedures. Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of U.S. forces in Africa, is undergoing the 21-day isolation with a dozen personnel.
Williams told CNN via video link that morale is high and accommodations are comfortable.
“The joint chiefs have made a recommendation to Secretary Hagel that he consider a regimented program of 21 days of controlled, supervised monitoring for all troops returning from Ebola response efforts in West Africa,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters.
“The secretary is in possession of that recommendation. He has made no decision yet.”
Kirby said Hagel “shares the concerns by the chiefs about the safety and well-being not only of our troops, but also of their families, and he appreciates the thoughtfulness and the gravity of the recommendations Chairman Dempsey sent to him.”
“When a decision has been made, we will certainly let you know,” he said. “In the meantime, the secretary supports the decision made by Army leadership to place Major General Williams and his team under this same quarantine-like program.”
On how the quarantine of service members would work, “I think there’s still some homework to be done on that.”
Despite the White House pushback on the decisions of New Jersey, New York and Chicago to quarantine high-risk passengers coming from the affected areas, such as healthcare workers treating Ebola patients, Kirby said he’s “not aware” of “outside advice” that Hagel “is seeking.”
“He greatly values the opinions and recommendations of Chairman Dempsey and the chiefs as well. But he’s going to take the time that he feels he needs to make a decision. And I think everybody understands the importance of that decision. And when he’s ready, when he’s made one, we’ll let you know.”
The group currently in quarantine in Italy is the “first installment” of troops coming back from Liberia.
“I think the secretary understands that Army leadership, supported by the recommendations of the joint staff, wanted to take a very conservative approach, particularly for this first group, and again, he understand that and didn’t feel it was necessary to step in the way of it,” Kirby said.
“But broadening it to the entire force and making a department-wide policy decision is something that he wants to take very seriously, and as I said, when — when he’s had time to consider it, we’ll let you know.”