- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) - Fort Campbell soldiers preparing for deployment to Liberia as part of a humanitarian mission are being trained on how to avoid the deadly Ebola virus.

At least 700 members of the 101st Airborne Division will deploy to the African country starting next week as part of the U.S. military’s 4,000-soldier mission aimed at building Ebola care centers and training hundreds of health care workers. The goal is to stop the spread of the virus.

At a briefing and training session Thursday at Fort Campbell, Capt. Tyler Mark said Ebola was just one item on the list of West African dangers.

“A lot of you have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, been shot at, blown up; you’ve been through all that and survived,” Mark said. “Well, forget about all that. The environment you’re going into is very different. The threat rates - the stuff that can kill you - is much worse.”

That got the soldiers’ attention - fast.

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Sgt. Jesus Sanchez. “I’m kind of scared … but we’re going out there to help.”

The virus has infected more than 7,470 in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia and killed more than 3,400, though experts say the actual number is likely much higher.

Pvt. Antwon Phillips was among more than 150 members of the 10st Airborne who were trained Thursday on how to avoid the virus. Wearing a hooded chemical suit, breathing mask and two layers of gloves, Phillips raised his arms as an instructor showed him how to scrub and spray with bleach in case of exposure to Ebola.

The soldiers, with specialties in areas such as combat hospitals, aviation, logistics, transportation and engineering, will not be providing direct treatment or having contact with Ebola patients, so the risk is considered to be low, said Lt. Col. Brian DeSantis, the 101st Airborne’s spokesman.

Soldiers were briefed on how Ebola is spread and what symptoms to look for. They were told to seek medical care at the first sign of trouble and not to shake hands or touch residents. They were told not to eat or drink anything that wasn’t provided by the U.S. government.

And they were told that using protective gear was critical, particularly when handling blood specimens in a lab or standing guard near public areas. They were shown how to use layers of gloves, chemical suits, masks and special boots

Still, Ondraya Frick, a microbiologist with the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, stressed during the training that while the chances of contracting Ebola were “very low,” that event could be “catastrophic.”

Soldiers’ health will be monitored, officials said.

Some of the soldiers may be housed in Liberian government buildings or in tent areas, military officials said. In addition, they will be spread across the country, including in Monrovia, the capital, they said.

The military’s effort to build the Ebola treatment units could be finished within a couple of months.

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