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A team of Soldiers assigned to Fort Benning's 463rd Medical Detachment (Veterinary Services), 14th Combat Support Hospital, is set to deploy to West Africa as part of a response support force for Operation United Assistance in the coming days.
The team left Fort Benning Oct. 20 for a staging area, where it will eventually fly to Monrovia, Liberia.
The RSF supports the U.S. Agency for International Development, the lead federal agency in West Africa responding to the Ebola virus outbreak. The RSF mission is to help the Liberian government contain the Ebola virus, establish and synchronize Ebola treatment units across the country, train health-care workers and establish logistical centers to support this effort.
The 463rd team will conduct food and water supply inspections to protect the health of other RSF members.
"With Veterinary Services worldwide, our mission is food safety and sanitation and veterinary support for government-owned animals," said Lt. Col. Alisa Wilma, commander of the 463rd Medical Detachment. "That doesn't change no matter where we are in the world, no matter if it's Thailand, Haiti or Liberia - that's what we do. We're there to make sure that everything a Soldier puts in their mouth is as close to U.S. standards as we can get it."
The team will not be working directly with Ebola patients or health-care providers. Despite that, Wilma said precautions are being taken in the event the team does encounter an Ebola patient or other infectious diseases.
"We are doing all of the Public Health Command training that is being put out that has been worked up ... on the Ebola risk, but also for malaria and other vector-borne diseases, which are things that can be transmitted via insects," she said. "Every Soldier goes down with uniforms that help repel insects. They drew brand new ones, so they'll go down with absolutely the best that we can give them. They get pop-up mosquito nets for their beds that we'll treat with insecticide."
Wilma said the team will have personal protective equipment recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as full rounds of vaccinations.
Col. Paula Lodi, commander of 14th CSH, said additional training has been conducted to ensure the team's safety, including training on proper use of the personal protective equipment that has been endorsed by the CDC and the Army Public Health Command.
Once the team is ready to return, Wilma said CDC protocols will be followed to make sure no Soldier is carrying Ebola.
"We'll be taking temperatures, everybody will be given a list of symptoms to look at, sergeants will check their Soldiers every day," she said. "That's what we do - we take care of our Soldiers. The fact that we're looking for a new list of symptoms doesn't change what we do."
Despite the inherent risk of traveling to West Africa, Wilma said the team is looking forward to the deployment.
"The 463rd is incredibly proud, happy and excited to be on this mission," Wilma said. "We're looking forward to going and helping out."