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US Troops Take First Steps to Help Liberia Combat Ebola

Local workers look on as a team or U.S. Navy engineers prepares the ground for a 25-beds medical facility they are building next to the airport in Monrovia, Liberia, Sept. 27, 2014.
Local workers look on as a team or U.S. Navy engineers prepares the ground for a 25-beds medical facility they are building next to the airport in Monrovia, Liberia, Sept. 27, 2014.

Over the past two weeks, one world leader after the other has called for immediate action in the fight against Ebola in West Africa.

The United States has made the largest contribution and is sending 3,000 troops to Liberia to assist with healthcare logistics. It is the biggest military operation for America in Africa since withdrawing forces from Somalia in 1993.

Petty Officer Second Class Justin Holsinger stands in front of an empty field at Liberia’s international airport, Robertsfield.

Draining water from site

The enormous yellow excavator that is driving up and down behind him started work only 30 minutes ago. On this site, Holsinger and his unit are to build a 25-bed hospital for health workers infected with Ebola.

"Our biggest concern with this area is drainage," Holsinger explained. "If you have too much water in your area with your beds, it can cause a lot of problems with insects, maybe snakes. ... I [don't] think anybody really wants to live with water."

The tall officer, in his early twenties, wearing sunglasses and a tan construction helmet, is based in Djibouti, which is thousands of kilometers across the continent on the Gulf of Aden. Djibouti hosts the only U.S. military base in Africa.

US Initiatives to Fight Ebola

U.S. Initiatives to Fight Ebola

  • Assign 3,000 U.S. forces to Monrovia, Liberia, to provide command and control support in the region, facilitate coordination of U.S. and international relief efforts.
  • Train as many as 500 health care workers a week.
  • Build 17 heath care facilities in the region of 100 beds each.
  • Provide home health care kits to 400,000 households, including 50,000 that the U.S. Agency for International Development will deliver to Liberia this week.
  • Carry out a home- and community-based campaign to train local populations on how to handle exposed patients.

Sources: White House, AP

Along with the deployment of these troops to Liberia, U.S. President Barack Obama has committed $175 million and will build 17 new health care facilities in the region with 100 beds each and train up to 500 health care providers per week.

Local residents had mixed feelings about the military involvement as the first uniformed soldiers arrived here at the end of September.

"Well, seeing them is like sometimes happiness, sometimes not. I don’t know. I don’t know their real mission here," said Acostel Tmba, a local resident.

"I overheard that they’re here for them to fight the Ebola virus in this nation. So seeing them, sometime we’re pleased for us to see the U.S. Army in this country for them to help to fight the Ebola virus," Tmba said.

Information war

Major General Darryl Williams, who leads the U.S. humanitarian military operation in Liberia, said he believes that Liberians generally like Americans, but any military is possibly unpopular. He said his troops understand that and are prepared for it.

A lack of information about the virus led to the quick spread of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leona and Guinea - where this outbreak first began in December.

The information war remains problematic in overcoming suspicions and a lack of education. In a remote village in Guinea, a group of health care workers and journalists were attacked and killed in mid-September by enraged villagers.

Nevertheless, the American troops are certain of the success of their mission.

Colonel Brad Johnson is in charge of setting up an air bridge - the expansion of Robertsfield airport to make sure that the necessary goods Liberia needs to fight Ebola can be provided quickly throughout the country.

Johnson said Liberia and America are not only united by a long friendship and history, but also by a common language, which should make things much easier.

"We got an awesome relationship with the airfield manager here," Johnson said. "As we ramp up operations, we’ll work through those challenges and I think this will be highly effective moving forward."

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Ebola has infected more than 5,600 people and killed more than 2,800 this year, mostly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organization said the number of people infected with Ebola could grow at an "explosive" rate, exceeding 20,000 by November, unless more is done quickly to control the outbreak.