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R. Williams: The U.S. Military Response to Ebola

The U.S. Military Response to Ebola
Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25)
Remarks at the UPF Washington DC's Peace and Security forum on "Understanding the Global Threat of Ebola"

I would like to thank the Universal Peace Federation and especially Cynthia Turner with Medical Service Corporation International and SerphimGLOBAL for inviting me to update you all on the U.S. Military response to the Ebola outbreak.

Let me start by saying that the United States Government has deployed a team with a great amount of experience in dealing with disasters and humanitarian assistance. The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), deployed by USAID, is leading the U.S. efforts to address the Ebola epidemic abroad, and the Joint Force Commander is in direct support of USAID’s leading role. This team is coordinating its activities with the local and international response efforts, which are increasing due to the United States’response.

The U.S., led by the State Department’s diplomatic outreach efforts, USAID’s engagement with the healthcare and humanitarian organizations, and the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) public health response activities, continues to see an upswing in international efforts to this crisis.

Secretary Hagel recently approved military activities falling under four major categories: Command and Control, Logistics Support, Engineering Support, and Training Assistance.

Command and Control are being conducted by a U.S. military joint force command deployed to the region. On September 15, Secretary Hagel approved OPERATION UNITED ASSISTANCE (OUA), for U.S. military efforts in response to the Ebola crisis.

On October 25, Major General Gary Volesky, the Commander of the Army’101st Airborne Division, assumed command of the mission.

Major General Volesky brings significant operational capabilities to support the mission, as well as the command-and-control structure necessary to coordinate U.S. military efforts with other groups on the ground. These groups include: other U.S. departments and agencies; the Government of Liberia and –in particular –the Armed Forces of Liberia; the United Nations and bilateral partners providing a military response to the epidemic.

The U.S. Military’s logistic support activities are primarily improving transportation and immediate care capabilities in Liberia.

To support transportation efforts, the U.S. military has worked with regional and international partners to establish an intermediate staging base in Dakar. U.S. military aircraft are providing airlift capabilities into West Africa and within Liberia to move supplies and personnel.

To support immediate care capabilities, U.S. military has constructed a 25-bed hospital in Monrovia as a treatment facility for Liberia-based, non-U.S., non-military healthcare providers exposed to Ebola. This hospital is being operated by United States Public Health Service healthcare professionals, and is prepared to provide care to patients.

The third major category where the U.S. military is providing assistance involves Engineering Support. In this effort, our military established a joint force headquarters and a training facility in Monrovia and are prepared to construct up to 17 Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) in Liberia at which non-U.S. military healthcare professionals can isolate and treat Ebola-infected patients. U.S. military engineers are facilitating site selection and construction of ETU’s, and are working closely with engineers in the Armed Forces in Liberia.

Training activities are another important category of the U.S. military’s focus. Our U.S. military personnel are prepared to train up to 500 healthcare support personnel at a time, helping healthcare workers to serve as the first responders in ETUs throughout Liberia. As of November 9th, 133 healthcare workers and support staff had been trained, and a third class of 121 students began on November 10th.

Again, U.S. military personnel will not provide direct care to Ebola patients in West Africa.

In addition to Operational United Assistance’s efforts, the Department of Defense is continuing its existing programs in the region. In Liberia, OPERATION ONWARD LIBERTY, consisting of approximately 25 U.S. military personnel, partners with the Armed Forces of Liberia to improve the professionalization and capabilities of Liberia’s military.

Regionally, we are expanding the efforts of DoD’s Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP) to address urgent needs in the affected countries, and to provide strong and sustainable improvements to biosafety, biosecurity, and biosurveillance systems in neighboring and at-risk countries in West Africa.

The program will also try to strengthen our existing partnerships with South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda to improve regional capacities to lessen the threats associated with the current and any potential future infectious disease outbreaks.

Let me give you an example of these efforts: The Cooperative Biological Engagement Program, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Army have deployed six mobile labs to Liberia that are currently providing diagnostic capabilities that are so important to containing and reducing the Ebola Virus. These six mobile labs are enhancing the work already being done by three experts at the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research lab.

I also just heard that DoD is working through the approval processes for deploying two additional mobile labs to support the UK-led Ebola response efforts in Sierra Leone.

As of November 10, U.S. Africa Command has spent approximately $184 million of the $750 million in reprogrammed Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid funds in support of Operation United Assistance. An additional $85 million from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program will fund USAID and CDC validated requirements, such as diagnostic laboratories, laboratory reagents, and personal protective equipment.

The DoD is closely monitoring, evaluating and coordinating Personal Protective Equipment requirements and worldwide supply to ensure that all personnel remain safe.

As all of you know, West Africa’s Ebola epidemic remains dangerous, but we have a comprehensive United States Government response and –increasingly –a coordinated international response to contain the threat and mitigate its effects.

The Department of Defense’s interim measures are an essential element of the U.S. response, without which it will be extremely difficult to block the epidemic’s rapid expansion.

The President has noted that this global threat requires a global response. He has committed U.S. leadership to international Ebola response efforts, but the United States cannot afford to unilaterally address the situation.

I think that now is the time to devote an appropriate amount of U.S. resources –military and civilian –necessary to contain the threat, to reduce and ease suffering of the afflicted, and to put in place the operations and processes we will need so that in the future we can again respond quickly and adequately to any crises.

I want to thank you again for allowing me to address such a distinguished group and for your time and your interest in this important global issue. Unfortunately I need to return to the Capitol for a meeting, but if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office.