McChord Reservists support Operation Unified Response for Ebola control

by Jake Chappelle
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

10/9/2014 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- Including the initial military flight into Dakar, Senegal, the Air Force Reserve's 446th Airlift Wing here has flown more than 10 C-17 Globemaster III missions supporting the Ebola control contingency, Operation United Assistance, in Liberia since the end of September.

In addition to the 97th and 313th Airlift Squadron crews who've returned within the last week, at least two aircrews are staging out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, with five additional crews, which could be assigned to support the efforts throughout October.

"We have some of the most highly-qualified and experienced C-17 crews in the Air Force," said Col. Scott McLaughlin, 446th Airlift Wing commander. "McChord has carried essential cargo and personnel for the ground units in the area, which require the capabilities of the C-17. This support is possible because of the readiness of our Reservists. They have to be ready support any conflict or peacetime mission anytime, anywhere."

Although the military isn't transporting infected patients, the Air Force is taking necessary measures to ensure the safety of their Airmen.

"The time on the ground in Africa is brief, only taking the crews a few hours to deliver the cargo and depart," McLaughlin said. "Although the odds of aircrews coming in contact with the virus are slim, we're taking every precaution for their health and safety. Our medical squadron is working with the Command and the aircrews to evaluate any potential risk."

Col. (Dr.) Bruce Neely, 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight surgeon, was handpicked by AFRC Aerospace Medicine to develop medical protocols to keep Air Force personnel safe during operations.

Part of the screening process involves the flight surgeon going through a unique exposure assessment with the aircraft commander over the phone, then relaying the results to AFRC. Additionally, Neely is developing an expansion of the screening process with AFRC, such as aircrew follow up.

"I had discussions how we can follow crews, how crews should be screened before coming home, and how they should be screened when they come back (to support OUA)," said Neely, who is also an emergency physician with MultiCare in Auburn, Washington as a civilian. "I also met with (the 62nd Medical Group Aerospace Medicine chief) and discussed how we evaluated our crew, shared instruments and processes we used, and how we can best work for the crews from McChord."

Officials expect OUA mission frequency to increase in coming days as hospitals, labs, and support personnel are positioned to assist in the crisis.

The military is providing medical personnel to support health care provider training, engineers to construct Ebola treatment units, logisticians and other transportation personnel to support the regional intermediate staging base, as well as command and control staff for the Joint Force Command headquarters in Liberia.

Nearly 20 446th AW volunteers from the air transportation field are training to handle and move medical supplies and cargo. If assigned to support OUA, they could be in place by November.

Military engineers are currently overseeing construction of at least 17 separate Ebola treatment units with a 100-bed capacity. Once complete, the facilities will be turned over to Liberia and staffed by local and international health care providers. U.S. military personnel will not staff the treatment units.

The president considers containing the spread of Ebola to be a national security priority that will require mobilizing the collective resources of the international community.

"This will not be an overnight process, but we're making significant progress," said Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby last week.

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