More than 100 Fort Carson soldiers are taking online classes while they wait out a three-week quarantine that welcomed them back from Liberia, where they spent seven weeks helping locals tackle that nation's Ebola epidemic.
All troops will go through 21 days of controlled monitoring at one of the controlled monitoring areas in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Joint Base Eustis-Langley, Virginia, Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Bliss, Texas.
The redeployment of the 450 service members will not affect the JFC-UAâ€™s capability to monitor current systems built during Operation United Assistance or the ability to respond to other missions outside of Liberia. Operation United Assistance is a Department of Defense operation in Liberia to provide logistics, training and engineering support to U.S. Agency for International Development-led efforts to contain the Ebola virus outbreak in western Africa.
The 615th Engineer Company soldiers came home months ahead of schedule because Liberia had more Ebola-fighting resources than Defense and State Department officials anticipated. They were sent to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, one of five sites picked for quarantine monitoring.
"It's great to be home," Capt. Ryan Horton, the company's commander, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "Our soldiers are in great spirits."
Engineers from the 615th are specialists in road building and spent much of their time fixing a road near Liberia's main airport. The 150-soldier company left a platoon of about 50 soldiers behind to finish work on the airfield, which is being brought up to FAA standards with new signs and runway improvements. That platoon could return home next month.
The soldiers did do work on Ebola-fighting facilities, including laying foundations for a U.S. Public Health Service compound, but its soldiers steered clear of Ebola patients.
"Our exposure to the local nationals was extremely limited," Horton said.
None of the soldiers has shown signs of Ebola.
U.S. forces were rushed to Liberia to build facilities needed to battle the outbreak, which has claimed 3,500 lives there, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention update issued Monday.
The 615th was picked for the mission in October and embarked on a crash course of training to help the troops understand Liberia and the disease they could face. Fort Carson held a series of meetings with troops, family members and the community to describe precautions planned to prevent troops from bringing Ebola home.
When the engineers got to Liberia, a nation of 4.5 million people, they got a surprise.
"It was definitely a little nicer starting out than what we anticipated and what we were prepared for," Horton said.
Much of the work the military planned on doing wound up in the hands of contractors, which Horton said proved far more capable than initial estimates.
An Army spokesman in Liberia said the work of soldiers in the 615th and the efforts of contractors working for the federal Agency for International Development got Ebola treatment facilities built faster than planners anticipated.
"The engineers who deployed here were needed, and they worked very hard to get these facilities up as quickly as they did," said Army. Lt. Col. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for military operations in Liberia. "Nobody foresaw us completing these Ebola Treatment Units this quickly."
DeSantis said the mission, which has included nearly 3,000 troops, cost the Defense Department $44 million out of a planned $330 million budget. Last week, the military sent home nearly 500 soldiers from Liberia, including the Fort Carson contingent, and declared that operations could wrap up well ahead of the planned minimum time of six months. By the time the 615th arrived in Liberia, the pace of building made some of their bulldozers and road-graders unnecessary, Horton said. The unit didn't get all of its gear off ships before it was time for most of its soldiers to head home.
"There is still some equipment in-country with the platoon," Horton said. "The rest stayed on the boat and is on its way back."
Now, the soldiers are undergoing daily monitoring of their health in a quarantine barracks. The troops are getting good food sent in, Horton said, and are spending their last three weeks away from Fort Carson polishing their Army knowledge.
"We have the time and resources to do a lot of online training," Horton said. "They can walk away from here and gain some knowledge."
And, Horton said, all of his soldiers picked up an important lesson in Liberia.
"It really reinforced the idea of soldiers, and especially engineers, being adaptable and flexible," he said. READ MORE OF THIS STORY