An Iowa Army National Guard medical support unit based in Washington, Iowa got a call from Washington D.C. this weekend. Guard spokesman, Colonel Greg Hapgood, says the unit of approximately 80 soldiers received notice of “pending mobilization” to help fight Ebola.
“The 294th Area Support Medical Company of the Iowa Army National Guard provides full spectrum medical support in a particular area of operations,” Hapgood says. “What they really specialize in is casualty triage, basic medical treatment, life sustainment, and also the transportation of injured and sick personnel.”
He says the Iowa unit would be supporting the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “The 294th’s proposed mission in West Africa for Operation United Assistance would be to provide full spectrum medical care to U.S. and coalition personnel in West Africa,” Hapgood says. “Their job is not to treat the local population also coalition forces is contained and that they are doing well, so that’s really their main job.”
While the actual mobilization date has not yet been set, he says it’s a good bet that it will happen. “It’s been our experience, particularly over the last 13 years, that once a unit receives a notification of sourcing, it is highly likely that they will mobilize,” Hapgood says.
This is a different type of mission for the unit, which last deployed in 2009 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “This is a humanitarian mission, so it certainly differs from a combat threatre, but the unit’s job is exactly the same whether or not they are in West Africa or Iraq or Afghanistan. Their job really is to provide medical to U.S. personnel and coalition forces and to ensure the health and safety of those forces,” according to Hapgood.
He says the members of the unit are on standby after learning of the call this weekend. “The personnel, they are ready to go. They understand what it is they need to do, when they need to do it, and they are ready to take care of the mission and come home,” Hapgood says. The mission will be like others as the soldiers will report for more training before heading overseas. “The unit will receive additional very specialized training specifically aimed towards the prevention of Ebola. And we believe that training will be very comprehensive,” Hapgood says.
The Iowa Guard expects the deployment will begin in the spring and last for approximately six months. Ebola has claimed more than 5,000 lives in western Africa this year.