Allen B. West

Un-frigging-believable: US troops get just 4 hours of Ebola training

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As y’all know, I spent 22 years active duty service in the U.S. Army and deployed several times to combat zones, and what I’ve learned recently about troop preparations and deployment activities is quite disconcerting.

As reported by the Daily Beast, “American military operations to fight Ebola in Africa are unfolding quickly—forcing the military to come up with some procedures and protocols on the fly. Soldiers preparing for deployment to West Africa are given just four hours of Ebola-related training before leaving to combat the epidemic. And the first 500 soldiers to arrive have been holing up in Liberian hotels and government facilities while the military builds longer-term infrastructure on the ground. For soldiers at Fort Campbell and Fort Bragg preparing for their deployments to West Africa, Mobile Training Teams from the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), based out of Fort Detrick, have been tasked with instructing them on Ebola protocols.”

Four hours of deployment training for Ebola? Four hours to prepare our men and women to combat against something that can take their lives? This is unbelievable. I recall spending countless hours training and preparing for a combat deployment at ranges and in the field. Heck, we spent four hours doing operations order briefings for the deployment — rehearsals and such. We’re not talking about medical professionals who’ve spent their entire careers understanding how to deal with infectious diseases. I wonder what medical professionals would say if they were to receive just four hours of training to combat ISIS or the Taliban?

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“All training is tiered to the level of risk each person may encounter,” said USAMRIID spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden. The training process sounds daunting: One USA Today report described soldiers being told that Ebola “basically causes your body to eat itself from the inside out” and that Ebola is “worse” than what soldiers encountered in Afghanistan. Others reportedly heard that the disease is “catastrophic” and “frightening… with a high fatality rate,” though the chances of contracting it are low. “I’ll be honest with you,” one soldier told the newspaper. “I’m kind of scared.”

This, ladies and gents, is the level of concern the Commander-in-Chief has for your sons and daughters in uniform. He signs an executive order allowing illegals to enlist and uses the same pen to deploy our American troops into harm’s way against a deadly virus — with four hours of training and preparation. And our elected officials, both Democrat and Republican, just sit back and allow this to happen. They don’t challenge Obama. Heck, I’d be scared as well, and what happens if by some act of fate these troops contract this disease? What are the redeployment procedures for those affected troops?

The Daily Beast reports “the military maintains that the risk of contracting the virus is minimal. Ebola is not an airborne disease, and there are no plans for U.S. service members deployed to West Africa to have any contact with sick patients.”

Hate to tell ya folks, but that’s what we military planners call an assumption — that they will not have contact — not a fact.

“I’m not an epidemiologist, but it’s been shown that this disease is most manifest when handling bodily fluid—blood, other sorts of fluids, and there is no plan right now for U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to do that,” Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, the officer in charge of America’s operations center in Liberia, told reporters Thursday. “As long as you exercise basic sanitation and cleanliness sort of protocols … I think the risk is relatively low.”

I appreciate the words of MG Williams, with whom I briefly served in the 4th Infantry Division, but as the enemy has a vote, so does this virus, which we have not yet been able to contain. The only way to guarantee a Soldier or Marine doesn’t contract Ebola is by not deploying them into the “hot zone.”

I remember when a rocket hit a mess hall in Iraq and killed Soldiers — I don’t think they ever thought they’d die while eating chow on their base. And yes, a couple of days before my redeployment out of Afghanistan, a rocket hit just outside of the chow hall near the line — thankfully it was a dud. Can’t tell you how many times we had to jump out of the rack when the sirens went off in the middle of the night.

Any deployment into a combat zone has uncertainty surrounding it no matter what. Dangers abound and you don’t prepare our men and women with just four hours of training — regardless of what the enemy may be.

The Beast says, there are just over 500 military service members in West Africa, serving in Senegal and Liberia. A major part of their mission is logistics and construction: The U.S. military is building a 25-bed hospital and 17 Ebola treatment units, as well as training health-care providers in Liberia.”

“A small number of specially trained soldiers from USAMRIID are at the highest risk, and an exception to Williams’ comment that soldiers are not handling bodily fluids. These service members have been supporting a laboratory in Liberia to run Ebola tests on patient samples, but are also are highly prepared to deal with infectious diseases.”

“However, the American troops in Liberia are so far living in improvised quarters in hotels and government building as well, they are also utilizing local drivers and vehicles to support their movements.”

I disagree with using our U.S. military in this type of operation — and have grave concerns with four hours of Ebola preparation training. And I always have concerns about rules of engagement (ROE) and the following warrants my concern as the Daily Beast reports, “the military acknowledges that it is currently sharing hotels and businesses with foreign nationals. “We are here with the permission of the Liberian government and we do not clear out local hotels and businesses during our stay,” said an Army spokesman. “We chose hotels with the safety of our service members in mind, and the hotel staffs monitor all employees and guests and allow us to conduct safety inspections of their facilities to ensure they meet our safety criteria.” Instead, the military spokesman focused on the precautions that they are already taking: Soldiers based in Liberia have their temperature measured several times per day, and are not permitted to shake hands.”

There are risks and then there are taking chances. We taking incredible chances with the lives of our men and women. You cannot mitigate all the risks of Ebola — certainly not with just four hours of training preparation.

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