- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

ABERDEEN, Md. (AP) - A U.S. military mobile laboratory designed to assess and combat biological and chemical threats is preparing for its first deployment to Liberia, where a team of soldiers and scientists will test for Ebola.

The 1st Area Medical Laboratory based in Aberdeen will deploy to Liberia next week. Twenty-two soldiers, some of whom are biochemists, microbiologists and laboratory technicians, will be on the mission.

The laboratory’s commander, Col. Patrick Garman, said the soldiers have undergone extensive training. The laboratory will be headquartered in Monrovia, the capital, and Garman said four groups of three will be dispatched across Liberia to test human samples for the deadly virus.

Previously the laboratory has deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

“People should know their sons and daughters and husbands and wives who volunteered to be in the Army are great individuals, and it’s my responsibility to keep them safe,” Garman said. “It’s truly an honor to lead them.”

Garman, a pharmacist with a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of Florida, said his team will not come into direct contact with infected patients. But that doesn’t mean the soldiers haven’t been training for months on how to handle the fast-moving and fiercely infectious disease.

He said troops began training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in August, working to develop best practices for donning and doffing personal protective equipment and running field simulations in which soldiers would break down and reassemble the laboratory.

Garman said the troops are prepared and ready to go. But there’s always a bit of nervousness before deployment, especially since troops could be gone for as long as a year.

“We train for these missions and prepare, so when you actually get a mission there’s a mix of excitement and a little bit of apprehension,” Garman said.

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