By Army Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Hoskins
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
MONROVIA, Liberia, Feb. 27, 2015 – The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) cased its colors during a ceremony yesterday at the Barclay Training Center here, marking the end of Operation United Assistance for the Joint Forces Command - United Assistance, or JFC-UA.
The ceremony signified the successful completion of a five-month deployment to Liberia in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development-led mission to fight the spread of the Ebola virus in western Africa.
The 101st, based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, led JFC-UA. The team also comprised engineers, medical personnel, logisticians and others, who built Ebola treatment units, also known as ETUs, trained health care workers, and built a logistics infrastructure for its support.
Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commander of the JFC-UA and the 101st, recognized the extraordinary circumstances in which his team was created and performed.
"Five months ago, we stood at this exact spot and uncased the colors of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) to mark the establishment of the ... first Joint Forces Command ever established in West Africa," Volesky said. "That day was the day the United States military brought our full weight to bear in support of our government's response to contain the Ebola virus in Liberia."
The main tenets of the JFC were to build, train and sustain. However, one other tenet -- confidence -- became self-evident, Volesky said.
"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 to help garner the support of the international community to also assist in the fight against this disease," Volesky said.
"The Joint Forces Command worked with our Armed Forces of Liberia partners in building and overseeing constructions of ETUs," Volseky said.
The command built and supported 17 ETUs throughout Liberia, facilities that allowed for a more swift isolation and treatment of Ebola patients.
Building the ETUs was the job of Task Force Rugged, a team led by the 36th Engineer Brigade based out of Fort Hood, Texas, along with the 615th Engineer Company (Horizontal), based out of Fort Carson, Colorado. The 902nd Engineer Battalion, out of Grafenwoehr, Germany, and the 161st engineer Support Company of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, also helped build the facilities.
Along with construction, Task Force Rugged also improved roads critical to the transportation of equipment and personnel to the ETUs, camps and logistical focus points including airports and sea ports.
JFC-UA also constructed the Monrovia Medical Unit, a facility specifically designed to care for and treat health care workers who contract Ebola while caring for patients.
The facility, operated by the U.S. Public Health Service, is able to test patients for Ebola and treat and care for them all in one place.
The command also emplaced four Army mobile testing labs in the far reaches of Liberia.
"We established four mobile testing labs in Liberia so blood samples of potential Ebola patients could be identified, and those that were effected could begin receiving treatment in a matter of hours -- not days, and those that were not infected could be quickly released and reduce their chances of becoming infected," Volesky said.
The 1st Area Medical Laboratory, based out of Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, staffed and ran the facilities. It is scheduled to case its colors tomorrow.
"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," Volesky said.
Task Force Eagle Medic, led by the 86th Combat Support Hospital from Fort Campbell, trained additional health care workers through classes based out of the National Police Training Academy in Paynesville, Liberia, and mobile training teams in the remote areas of the nation.
The task force conducted the first phase of training for health care workers, which is conducted before they move on to the second phase conducted by the World Health Organization and the Liberian Ministry of Health inside operational ETUs.
After the completion of its training, which it conducted in conjunction with the World Health Organization, Task Force Eagle Medic transitioned their classes to the World Health Organization.
Though ETUs were being built, they needed to be regularly supplied so that they could operate safely and effectively. To that end, the JFC-UA built a robust logistics and supply system that webbed across Liberia.
The logisticians, from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), with the help of the United Nations World Food Programme, built forward logistics bases, which allowed them to place supplies closer to remotely located ETUs.
"Moreover, we established logistical systems to move building materials, medical supplies and water to the areas most in need, regardless of how remote the location was," Volesky said.
Helping spread the logistics web across Liberia was Task Force Iron Knights, comprised mainly of the 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division, based out of Fort Bliss, Texas.
The Iron Knights transported personnel, supplies and equipment, and building material to ETUs, mobile labs and forward logistics bases throughout the country -- many times to locations where ground vehicles were unable to travel.
The Iron Knights cased their colors Feb. 25, and are steadily redeploying their soldiers back to Fort Bliss.
And, the 101st Sustainment Brigade, deployed as Task Force Lifeliner, ran port operations, bringing in units' equipment, vehicles and aircraft from the United States and sustaining the entire JFC-UA during Operation United Assistance, tasks that are required before any other mission was to get off the ground.
Volesky said the progress JFC made was done so with the planned transition and continuation of the mission after the 101st departed Liberia.
"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," Volesky said.
"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 [Ebola virus disease]," he said. "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."
Though the 101st and the JFC have officially ended their tour in Liberia, a small contingent will remain to ensure a smooth transition of the mission to the government of Liberia and nongovernmental agencies.
"And while the JFC will redeploy, over 100 soldiers will stay for a few more months more to monitor the continued progress against [Ebola] to ensure the gains we have made together are lasting," Volesky said.
Before Volesky cased the division’s colors with Army Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Nowak, senior enlisted adviser of the JFC and the 101st, he thanked the service members for all of their hard work throughout the deployment.
"Lastly and most importantly, I want to thank the soldiers in front of us that represent the 2,500 servicemen and women of the Joint Forces Command," Volesky said. "Throughout our operation, most discussion has centered on capabilities or technology we used to build infrastructure, or to move supplies. But it is the people who matter, not the equipment or technology we use. People have the ingenuity to solve wicked hard problems, and have the determination to see solutions through."