By Morrison O.G Sayon
With significant progress being made in Liberia against the uncompromising Ebola Virus Disease, the Joint Forces Command United Assistance of the United States Military has successfully ended its mission in the country.
The departure of the US Army was disclosed yesterday at a colorful ceremony held at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) in Monrovia. One hundred U.S military will remain in the country to provide support to the fight against Ebola for few months.
The US Military came to the country to help curb the vicious Ebola virus that was ravaging in every part of Liberia especially at the time when Liberia was recording the highest death tolls amongst the three other West African countries also affected by Ebola. The Joint Forces Headquarters was established to provide oversight, feedback and management over DoD operations in support of the lead U.S. Federal Agency USAID.
Approximately 2,700 US-JFC came from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) 86th Combat Support Hospital, 36th Engineer Brigade, 2-501st Aviation Regiment and 1st Area Medical Laboratory.
On its operations in Liberia, the U.S-JFC developed training plans for Healthcare Workers in the country, created the DoD Ebola Treatment Training Team, Constructed mock ETU facility, trained over 1,500 health workers to staff operational ETUs, constructed twelve mobile training courses in remote areas.
On its mobile testing, JFC also planned, resourced, operated four army labs, managed two Navy labs and test results came out in four hours.
In the area of engineering, the JFC of the United States Army with its Monrovia medical unit, designed, constructed, and opened the Monrovia Medical Unit, a place where health care workers can be tested for Ebola, brought in 25 beds, treated 37 healthcare workers since opening, designed, constructed or contracted 14 ETUs, completed ten DoD ETUs, partnered with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to build four ETUs in Tubmanburg, Sinje, Buchanan and Gbediah.
The US military also fulfilled 87 USAID mission tasks/projects of DoD; supported 200 aviation missions which include delivering building materials and supplies to ETUs conducting ETU and mobile lab reconnaissance and personnel transport; planned, built and operated JFC-UA support area in Buchanan, a focal point for all DoD logistics; built logistics infrastructures, allowing ETUs to be supplied with needed medical equipment; supported forward logistics bases and sustained life support areas.
Speaking at the Joint Forces Command United Assistance Color Casing ceremony yesterday, the Commanding General of the Joint Forces United Assistance & 101st Airborne Division, Major Gary J. Volesky said the U.S. JFC is the first Joint Forces Command ever established in West Africa. He noted that yesterday was the day the United States military brought its full weight to bear in support of the US Government’s response to contain the Ebola virus in Liberia.
“The United States deployed its military to respond to a strategic crisis that directly impacts our security and our way of life back home. Based upon the severity of the Ebola epidemic, our mission was expected to last from nine to 12 months, and that a rotation of forces of thousands of troops could be needed for up to 18 months to fully contain this disease. When President Obama announced he would send 3,000 Servicemen and women to Liberia, his message was clear: the United States was committed to helping Liberia eradicate Ebola and that the people of Liberia could be confident that we would stand shoulder to shoulder with our Liberian brothers and sisters to see the job through, no matter how long it took,” Major Volesky said.
He furthered, “Our mission was to support the lead federal agency, USAID, by providing our unique military capabilities to help contain the virus and reduce the spread of Ebola in Liberia, and to execute our tasks with speed and flexibility that would not only help build confidence among Liberians that the virus could be defeated, but also help garner the support of the international community to also assist in the fight against this disease.”
The US Army General said the Joint Forces Command worked with the Armed Forces of Liberia and partnered in building and overseeing construction of ETUs. He went on, “Additionally we trained over 1,500 health care workers both in Monrovia and in local communities throughout the country to work in these ETUs and care for Ebola patients, but even more importantly, to educate and provide awareness in their own neighborhoods.”
Giving an overview of the US military work in Liberia, Major General Volesky added that his army established logistical systems to move building materials, medical supplies and water to the areas most in need, regardless of how remote the location was. “Finally, we established four mobile testing labs in Liberia so that blood samples of potential Ebola patients could be identified, and those that were affected could begin receiving treatment instantly and those that were not infected could be quickly released and reduce their chances of becoming infected.”
He noted that none of the many achievements by the US military would have mattered if it wasn’t for the phenomenal leadership provided by President Sirleaf, the ministers in the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Defense, and other key leaders with the Liberian government who created and enforced policies that changed cultural practices that were facilitating the transmission of EVD.
He said without the outstanding leadership, they would not have seen the progress being made. “I know due to their commitment to get to zero new cases, I am confident Liberia will be Ebola free in the near future,” Volesky said.
He asserted that the importance of the progress seen today means more than just the reduction in the number of new or suspected cases of Ebola. Volesky pointed out, “This progress is also about Liberians being able to get back to a normal way of life, which we have seen grow remarkably over the past few months. The ability to reopen schools, the huge increase in the numbers of people shopping in the markets, and the lifting the curfew and reopening the borders with Liberia’s neighbors are important examples of how a normal way of life is returning to Liberia.”
He said while no one can become complacent and allow Ebola to reemerge like it did in August, it is encouraging to see a country resuming everyday life adding, “While our large scale military mission is ending as the 101st departs Liberia, the fight to get to zero Ebola cases will continue and the JFC has ensured capabilities we brought will be sustained in the future. ETU construction tasks, health care worker training, and logistical sustainment operations for Ebola containment have been transitioned to reliable partners that will continue supporting the fight against EVD.”
“Our Army labs have transitioned and will be operated by organizations that don’t just test for Ebola, but also other infectious diseases such as Malaria and Lasa Fever. And while the JFC will redeploy, over 100 Soldiers will stay for a few more months more to monitor the continued progress against EVD to ensure the gains we have made together are lasting,” he said.
At the same time, the United States Military has honored and awarded the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Brig. Gen. Daniel Ziankahn for his outstanding performance and professionalism as head of the Liberian Army. Gen. Ziankahn was presented the Saint Maurice Award for his many contributions in assisting the US Military in fighting the deadly Ebola virus.
US Army also presented gifts to Vice President Joseph Boakai and Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai who described the work of the US Military in Liberia as remarkable and outstanding.