FORT HOOD, Texas (KXAN) — Like 500 of his fellow soldiers in Fort Hood’s 36th Engineer Brigade, Specialist Michael Potts had to explain to his family why he would be going away for a while. But for Potts, his two-year-old daughter is much too young to understand Ebola.
“I just told her that I am going to help save people and build things,” said Potts.
That is the truth. He and his brigade will be deployed to Liberia and constructing Ebola Treatment Units where patients will receive help. However, while a 2-year-old may not understand the risk, there are plenty of nervous families who will say goodbye to a soldier being deployed to the heart of the Ebola outbreak.
“They were a little nervous at first,” said Sgt. Joel Miick on how his family handled the news.
The fear and uneasiness for soldiers and their families is something brigade commander Colonel Heath Roscoe understands, but he feels the soldier’s education, training, and preparation will be enough to fight Ebola as well as any fear.
“I feel my soldiers are well trained,” said Roscoe. “There will be apprehension, but the more I read about (Ebola) the more comfortable I become about going over there.
Several soldiers echoed confidence in the training while admitting small feelings of concern, but the brigade will not be dealing with Ebola patients directly. Their job for “Operation United Assistance,” will be to build, not provide treatment. Still such a job must be prepared to deal with the virus and that is why soldiers spent Thursday getting acquainted with the white protective suits, protective masks, and blue gloves they will be wearing to while they work.
They also got a visit and encouragement from Governor Rick Perry.
“What you are fixing to do is not just about the United State or the U.S. Army,” Perry told the soldiers. “You are fixing to do a great service for the world.”
While observing the training exercises and protective equipment, Perry told Roscoe the United States will help contain Ebola by going to Ground Zero of the outbreak.
“If we do not get it under control there, it is going to continue to be at threat to the rest of the world,” said Perry to Roscoe.
A town hall meeting was held at Fort Hood on Monday for families of the soon-to-be deployed soldiers to talk about their concerns or fears about the mission into Africa. Roscoe said the soldiers being deployed are all very well-disciplined and will be taught to exercise good hygiene to keep Ebola risk low. Even in a worst-case scenario, Roscoe assured families their loved ones would be okay.
“If a soldier were to get Ebola over there, they will be okay because America will take care of them.”
Roscoe said the environment and security where soldiers will be working is considered safe, but they will bring weapons and body armor with them in case the environment changes. No timetable has been placed on the deployment and screening measures to ensure soldiers are healthy upon returning to their families have not yet been finalized
The puffy, white protective suits may not be the traditional army greens and a mission against a virus rather than a human enemy may be a change from the usual missions for these soldiers, but Perry told them their answer to the call of duty has made the Governor proud.
“It is the events that happen your life that you do not see coming that really distinguish and characterize who you are.”