Ebola and the Military

The Ebola epidemic is the headline story on most news networks right now, which isn’t a surprise. The famously deadly virus has played the villain in fiction often enough, with movies like Outbreak and novels like Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders highlighting what could happen if it breaks out of its home in central Africa. Well, now that’s happening. Air travel and the evacuation of sick health workers have led to infections in Texas, New York, Spain and possibly the UK. While there’s definitely no need to panic right now, there is potential for this situation to escalate badly. As new centers of infection appear, the disease becomes exponentially harder to control.

Army researcher fighting Ebola on front lines. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp
Army researcher fighting Ebola on front lines. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp

The US military, especially the Army, has a role to play in fighting this epidemic. Fort Bragg-based units, including medics, engineers and MPs, are carrying out pre-deployment training right now in advance of a possible move to West Africa. It’s likely Liberia will be the main effort, as that country and Sierra Leone seem worst affected. Meanwhile, USAMRIID at Fort Detrick has skilled epidemiologists trained to analyze a bio warfare attack, and the same techniques will work just as well to track an epidemic and work out countermeasures. There’s a lot the military can do to reduce Ebola’s impact, but it’s vital we don’t lose sight of the impact Ebola can have on the military.

There have already been several Ebola scares at military installations, going right to the highest level. On October 17, a woman who claimed to have been to Africa collapsed in a Pentagon parking lot. She’d also boarded a bus taking Marines and dependents to the barracks at 8th and I, and vomited in the on-board restroom. That sparked a containment operation, with areas of the Pentagon quickly being quarantined and the bus stopped before reaching the barracks. It later turned out the woman hadn’t been to Africa and wasn’t infected with Ebola. It also turned out she works for a public relations company, so who knows what the real story there is, but it did highlight the threat.

Unlike previous outbreaks, which have burned out because the disease killed infected people faster than they could move away from the epicenter, this time people have managed to get on planes. One of the two nurses infected in Texas flew from Dallas to Cleveland and back again before being diagnosed, and while it’s unlikely she infected anyone else on the flights there’s a possibility. A Marine who was on her return flight has now quarantined himself at Fort Worth. Hopefully it’s an unnecessary precaution but it’s still a sensible one; anybody who’s been exposed to the virus needs to be isolated until it’s conformed they aren’t infected and the longer it takes to do that the wider the circle of potential infection spreads. It wouldn’t take long to have a serious impact on a unit, and if that unit then had to deploy it could be disastrous. Medics dealing with casualties would be placed at high risk, contact with logistics personnel could rapidly spread the virus to other units, and a whole command could be paralyzed in a matter of days.

Controlling Ebola is something the Army is taking seriously. US soldiers can bring a lot of skill and expertise to the task, and it’s an essential one – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also to preserve the effectiveness of America’s military at a tense time.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

US Patriot Tactical

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