PAYNESVILLE, Liberia — Soldiers of the 36th Engineer Brigade, cased the brigade colors after completing their mission in Liberia in support of Operation United Assistance, Joint Task Force–United Assistance on Thursday.
The mere presence of the United States Armed Forces gave hope and confidence to the Liberians that the Ebola virus would be beaten, said Col. Heath Roscoe, brigade commander.
The rates of infections in September were around 50 to 60 per day. Currently, there is less than one case of Ebola reported per day, he said.
The Fort Hood engineers had elements of the brigade in Liberia by mid-October. Roscoe said the unit had the right capabilities for the mission
“We pulled units from within our brigade from two Army bases, and we had subordinate units attached to the us — Seabees, Air Force contracting officer representatives, 902nd Engineer Battalion, out of Grafenwoehr, Germany; 50th Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade, out of Fort Bragg, N.C.; the 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 85th Civil Affairs Brigade, out of Fort Stewart, Ga.; and the Department of Defense contractors,” Roscoe said. “They were all great enablers that allowed us to have mission success out there in the hinterlands of Liberia with our construction. I felt like we built a great team here to get the job done.”
Lt. Col. Robert Kimmel, brigade operations officer, said communication was a key factor before and during the mission.
“We did a lot of communication before we deployed here — on the phone and via email,” he said. “We ensured that everyone was tracking. We started off with a good base of communication. We determined who needed to be out here first to get the operation started, who should be the next and what capabilities we needed to meet. Whether it be by plane or by boat, we had an order in place to bring everyone and our equipment here successfully to support the mission.”
Upon arrival in Liberia, Kimmel said they had to go to find alternatives to communicate. The brigade didn’t have the standard military communication systems. They communicated instead by Iridium phones, cell phones and limited commercial Internet. Kimmel described it as difficult, but they made it work.
“We had to revert back to my days as a young lieutenant when we didn’t have all those systems to communicate and track personnel,” Kimmel said. “We had butcher block paper, dry erase board and a little green notebook. We developed our systems and went back to the ‘old school’ ways of doing things.”
Because of the climate, different environment and type of soil, the engineers had to overcome some unique challenges.
“A lot of the stuff that we use in America wasn’t the best choice for the climate here,” Kimmel said. “A lot of our pine would buckle under the humidity and the termites loved that stuff. Instead, we utilized equipment from the local area.”
To add to that, the soldiers arrived during the rainy season, which brings about 23 inches of rain in one month.
“The soldiers had to work a little harder because of the rain,” Kimmel said. “They worked on a shorter time-span to make sure the drainage systems work, ensuring that water runs off the site.”
Despite the climate and downpours, Task Force Rugged was able to construct multiple Ebola treatment units, which enabled the government of Liberia and the U.S. Agency for International Development fight the spread of the virus.
“We got to see the fruits of our labor as we had a hand in building four (units) and oversight of six others and four mobile labs,” Roscoe said.
“Not to mention, the great partnerships we built with the Armed Forces of Liberia. Some of the locations we built the (units) were in very remote and austere places. We had to constantly think about how we would logistically support our construction through ground and air transportation.”
This was Roscoe’s fourth deployment. Originally the unit was scheduled to go to Afghanistan, but plans changed in the summer, he said. That meant the unit was ready when the Ebola crisis broke out.
“This was for such a noble cause,” Roscoe said. “We really needed to get containment of the Ebola virus, or it would have had an impact on the world. I think we can look back at this mission with a great sense of pride and accomplishment.”
Roscoe said he believes this will be remembered as a very successful deployment that will be forever a part of the brigade’s history.