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Military & Veterans' Issues

DOD Ebola Team Trained at Fort Sam Houston Ready For Duty

Thirty members of a specialized infectious disease team have completed a round of training at Fort Sam Houston. The military team, organized by the Department of Defense to assist in domestic Ebola cases, trained in the specifics of using hazmat-style suits, which will protect them from exposure to the virus.

A technician sprays a saccharin-based solution toward the face mask of a member of the Ebola go team to make sure the seal on the mask is properly seated. Other members of the team practice drawing blood while wearing three pairs of rubber gloves.

The medical personnel from the Army, Air Force, and Navy were trained and re-trained in using their Personal Protective Equipment — long-sleeved white suits, shoe covers, three pairs of gloves, and protective masks connected to cooling fans for wearing over longer periods of time. They will train over and over again to create muscle memory for the process needed to keep them safe.

The extra equipment provides a challenge to even experienced infectious disease workers treating Ebola because one wrong move could mean they might be infected. “It’s kind of like riding a bike," said Major Rachel Park, Chief of Critical Care Nursing at Fort Benning, Georgia. She said health care workers must re-train themselves to move very, very slowly and deliberately.

“The first thing they want us to do is grab a solution of 1:10 bleach, disinfect my hands, and disinfect my battle buddy’s hands because we're always going to go in pairs of two,” Park said. “We would spray it on and we would spray each other really well. One of the main things is to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.”

Team members were scheduled to return to regular duty at their home bases after the training and remain ready to respond within 72 hours to any future Ebola cases. The team, which could be split up according to need, will be assigned to assist civilian medical personnel in hospitals only on U.S. soil.