Pentagon Orders 30-Member Ebola Response Team

PHOTO: US Africa Commander Gen. David Rodriguez listens during a news conference at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, to discuss the US military response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. PlaySusan Walsh/AP Photo
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The Pentagon has ordered that a 30-person military medical team be prepared to be put on standby to quickly assist the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with its Ebola response in the United States if needed.

The move followed a request to the Defense Department made Saturday by the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary, said the move was "an added prudent measure to ensure our nation is ready to respond quickly, effectively, and safely in the event of additional Ebola cases in the United States."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered U.S. Northern Command Command "to prepare and train a 30-person expeditionary medical support team that could, if required, provide short-notice assistance to civilian medical professionals in the United States," Kirby said.

The team will be made up of personnel from various military services and include "20 critical care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious disease, and five trainers in infectious disease protocols."

They will be sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio,Texas, for up to seven days of specialized training in infection control and personal protective equipment.

An official says the majority of the team will come from military bases in the San Antonio area, though Navy members of the team will come from other parts of the U.S.

The military is preparing to send as many as 4,000 personnel to Liberia to assist with that country's response to the Ebola outbreak, but those military personnel will not be involved in the care or treatment of Ebola infected patients.

That will not be the case with this new 30-person team of military health professionals, who will be directly involved in the care of Ebola patients if their services are requested.

The training of team members is expected to start as early as this week and will be provided by the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

PHOTO: The main building of the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas complex is shown, Oct. 16, 2014, in Dallas.Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo
The main building of the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas complex is shown, Oct. 16, 2014, in Dallas.

After their training is complete they will return to their home units and remain in a "prepare to deploy" status for 30 days, where they could be sent anywhere in the United States if their services are required.

"They will not be sent to West Africa or elsewhere overseas and will be called upon domestically only if deemed prudent by our public health professionals," Kirby said.

The U.S. official familiar with the request said that on Thursday an initial contact had been made to the Pentagon by the Centers for Disease Control about the possibility of military medical personnel helping out their efforts if needed.

HHS Secretary Sulvia Burwell made a formal written request of Hagel on Saturday. In the request, Burwell asked that the team be ready no later than Oct. 25 and that when ready it be prepared to augment HHS/CDC operations within 72 hours of notification.

According to the official, Burwell said that if needed the military personnel will not be requested to enforce quarantine measures in the United States.

Kirby said the preparation of the team is similar to how the Defense Department prepares for natural disasters.

"Secretary Hagel is committed to ensuring DoD is prepared to provide appropriate capabilities, as required, to support our government's response to this deadly disease" Kirby said. "He is extraordinarily proud of the skill and professionalism of our servicemen and women and of the unique capabilities they bring to bear in this important effort. As always, their safety and security will remain foremost on his mind."