Fort Eustis soldiers train for Ebola mission

alrockett@dailypress.com

About 60 soldiers from Fort Eustis are soon headed to West Africa to provide logistical support for the ongoing efforts to stem the Ebola outbreak.

While there, they are not expected to come in contact with patients or the virus.

On Wednesday, however, the 53rd Transportation Movement Control Battalion trained for the worst — the “just-in-case” scenario.

A group of seven soldiers practiced donning personal protection equipment, which includes a hooded full-body white hazardous material suit and two pairs of plastic surgical gloves. In Africa, they also will have access to a pair of protective boots, another pair of gloves and a mask.

“You got a hole in your suit, what do you do next?” Spc. Ryan Travers, a trainer with the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, asked hypothetically.

After soaking the exposed area with bleach, Travers told the soldiers they would need to doff their protective gear, carefully removing the suit without touching the inside or dropping any contaminated articles.

“Don't panic,” Travers said. “You will probably be under 24-hour fever watch. You'll carry on as normal.”

The group didn't seem worried.

“With the training and classes, I feel like we're stepping into it without any issues,” said Staff Sgt. Terrence Daniels who will be deploying with the battalion.

Lt. Col. Kevin Baird, the battalion's commander who is also deploying, said he doubts his troops will need the gear. While in theater, the soldiers will wear their usual uniforms, and in the event of potential contact with the disease — which is spread through bodily fluids not by air or water, according to the Centers for Disease Control — they will have access to the protective equipment.

“This is just in case,” Baird said.

For him, it's just like any other deployment with the same mission: move people and equipment from place to place.

“Fundamentally, it is the same mission we always do,” Baird said.

The battalion, part of the 7th Transportation Brigade — one of the most deployed in the Army — has been to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. It has also participated in other humanitarian efforts, such as in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. This time, they will be transporting medical and construction equipment to build treatment facilities in the affected region.

They are joining troops from Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Stewart, Ga., Fort Campbell, Tenn. and Ky., and Fort Bragg, N.C., as part of a larger deployment. The Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has sent training teams to each of the bases.

The day's training provided to Eustis soldiers is for “low to moderate risk,” said Gary Carter, chief of emergency management at the institute at Fort Detrick, Md.

A medical team from Langley Air Force Base deployed last month to set up a modular facility to train and treat aid workers who will be in direct contact with Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Airmen from the 633rd Medical Group will not directly treat Ebola victims, the Air Force has said.

Army officials wouldn't say when the troops will leave for Africa, only that they will deploy within the next few weeks. Baird said he doesn't know how long they will stay.

“When we've made an impact on the outbreak, it'll be time to come home,” Baird said.

Rockett can be reached by phone at 757-247-4942.

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