COLORADO SPRINGS – 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.
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 are spending their time in quarantine at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, one of five sites picked for quarantine monitoring.
The soldiers are undergoing daily monitoring of their health in a quarantine barracks. The troops are getting good food sent in and are spending their three weeks away from Fort Carson continuing their training, Capt. Ryan Horton, the company’s commander, said.
“We have the time and resources to do a lot of online training,” Horton said. “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 about 50 soldiers behind to finish work on the airfield, which is being brought up to FAA standards with new signs and runway improvements. Those soldiers could return home next month.
The soldiers also worked on Ebola-fighting facilities, including laying foundations for a U.S. Public Health Service compound, but the soldiers steered clear of Ebola patients.
“Our exposure to the local nationals was extremely limited,” Horton said.
So far, 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 killed 3,500 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The mission began in October when soldiers got 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.
Much of the work the military planned on doing wound up in the hands of contractors.
Army Lt. Col. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for military operations in Liberia, said about 3,000 U.S. soldiers took part.
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.