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Transit Center opens to house Ebola response returnees

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. (AFNS) -- The 633rd Air Base Wing here has established a precedent-setting controlled monitoring area to comfortably house and serve military personnel returning from missions combatting the Ebola virus in West Africa.

The camp, dubbed Langley Transit Center, is comprised of 21 buildings, including dormitories, bathroom and shower facilities, a fitness center, cafeteria, and an entertainment and recreation center -- all built and managed by 633rd ABW personnel.

Per direction from the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all military personnel returning to the U.S. from Joint Task Force United Assistance in West Africa will undergo a 21-day controlled monitoring program, where they will be physically separated from family members and the general public.

"These are service members who have had no known exposure to the Ebola virus disease," said Col. John J. Allen Jr., the base commander. “We are building a transit center that will facilitate their return from West Africa to their families

Joint Base Langley-Eustis was selected as one of the Department of Defense's controlled monitoring area bed-down sites due to its on-base hospital with access to medical isolation capability, proximity to a military airfield, ability to provide services, lodging, transportation and controlled access to facilities.

The 633rd ABW established the camp in a pre-existing expeditionary training center, historically used during operational readiness exercises, inspections and expeditionary training scenarios.

"Here at Langley (AFB), we have a contingency training area where we train Airmen to go forward to various parts of the world and set up this kind of expeditionary site, which is one of the reasons why Langley was viewed as a good opportunity to quickly set up a controlled monitoring area," Allen said. "Our Airmen, the same Airmen that have been doing this kind of work in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last decade, are essentially doing that here."

In less than 72 hours, Langley Airmen, civilian employees and contractors quickly transformed the "bare base" buildings into a veritable mini-city, ready to comfortably accommodate up to 90 service members. By mid-December, installation leaders project the transit center will be able to accommodate up to 150 people.

Base civil engineers retrofitted facilities with new heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, and upgraded plumbing capabilities, while communications Airmen and commercial internet and satellite television providers installed lines to pipe in telephone, high-speed internet and TV service for personnel to enjoy entertainment options and keep in touch with loved ones. Force support Airmen appointed the dormitories and common areas with furniture, appliances and linens to keep transit center residents comfortable.

According to Lt. Col. Anthony Figiera, the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron commander, the existing infrastructure provided an "incredible opportunity" for the base to develop a well-appointed camp featuring as many amenities as possible for service members to enjoy during their time in contained observation.

"Our goal is to offer the best support we can to the redeployers, provide good facilities where they can relax, (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) facilities so they may be entertained and have productive time while they're here," Figiera said. "Our redeployers coming back from West Africa did a great job over there and we're really proud of their service, and we want to make sure we can reintegrate them with their families as quickly as possible while following (Office of the Secretary of Defense) guidance on controlled monitoring."

"The U.S. military and the U.S. Air Force in particular has been doing this kind of work -- expeditionary bed-down -- for almost 25 years," Allen added. "We're pretty good at it; this is what we do."

While the first group of personnel arriving at Langley AFB did not have direct contact with Ebola patients, controlled monitoring serves as an additional precaution before personnel are released back to their home station.

"Controlled monitoring is the process by which trained healthcare professionals -- in our case, Airmen who are doctors, nurses, public health professionals -- monitor the returning service members for any symptoms consistent with the (Ebola)," Allen said. "This is just an additional safeguard ordered by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ensure we are protecting these service members, their families and the general population."

Medical professionals will abide by the established Ebola protocols, which include twice-daily temperature monitoring and protocols dictating what steps to take in the event a redeployer exhibits symptoms consistent with Ebola.

"We anticipate it will be a very quick easy process where people will breeze through the 21 days with no issues," Figiera said. "However, any time we've got a lot of people in close quarters or they've been traveling for long periods of time other sicknesses could present. Someone could come down with the flu or a common cold that could present a fever, which is one of the symptoms of Ebola. We're doing controlled monitoring tests twice a day to check everyone's temperature."

Figiera said each service member staying at the Langley Transit Center will be issued a personal thermometer to check their temperature throughout the day if they start feeling sick. Any time a service member spikes a temperature above the threshold that could be indicative of symptoms of Ebola, medical personnel will be notified immediately to transport the patient to Air Force Hospital Langley, where they will enter isolation and undergo testing. Once the patient is determined to be clear of the disease, they will return to the Langley Transit Center to continue on the controlled monitoring period.

"We have very rigorous, well-established, and well-rehearsed protocols in place for the steps that we take should one of these service members begin to exhibit any kind of a symptom that might become an indicator of the Ebola virus disease," Allen said. "We are very well-coordinated with the Virginia Department of Health and other local medical treatment facilities. We'll get them through this 21-day monitoring process and get them home to their families as expediently as we possibly can."

Personnel undergoing monitoring at Langley Transit Center will have access to a wide variety of amenities during their 21-day stay in order to provide the most comfortable experience possible.

"It's very important to recuperate the individuals before they head home to see their family members," said Lt. Col. Gregory Beaulieu, the 633rd Force Support Squadron commander. "We're here to make sure that they have the facilities they need, whether that's food, fitness, lodging, or recreational facilities and MWR, to make them feel as comfortable as they can during this process."

In addition to climate-controlled dormitories with in-room phones and refrigerators, the camp boasts a robust fitness center, complete with cardiovascular and strength training equipment, as well as high-definition television for patrons to enjoy while exercising.

Beaulieu and his staff leveraged the installation's existing inventory of fitness equipment and furniture to appoint the facilities at the transit center at a minimal cost to the Air Force.

Keeping service members connected to loved ones during their stay is a priority. To improve this, technicians built a Wi-Fi internet network servicing the entire transit center for them to tap into for communication and entertainment purposes.

"We worked with local cable providers to have Wi-Fi for the entire camp," Beaulieu said. "We've also established what we're calling 'The Hub,' a multi-purpose room featuring video game consoles, flat screen televisions to enjoy movies, and computers with video-chat capabilities to contact loved ones across the United States."

Beaulieu's food service team will provide three hot meals each day for those staying at the transit center using a cost-effective process designed to streamline delivery. Rather than establish a new dining facility at the camp, 633rd FSS personnel have created a menu for residents to select from, and will prepare the food at the installation's existing facilities and deliver the meals to the camp.

"Each day (residents) choose their menu for each meal and we'll package that in Styrofoam containers and bring it to them," Beaulieu said. "This allows us to save resources, as we don't have to build a dining facility on camp and can still provide them a hot meal they need versus using (meals, ready to eat) or boxed (meals)."

Just as separate dormitories are designated for males and females, the camp features two permanent bathroom and shower facilities, which include a pair of washers and dryers for camp residents to utilize. Additionally, the installation will contract laundry service for residents, allowing them to drop off laundry and have it returned cleaned within 48 hours.

"There are phones in all facilities, fire alarm capabilities, and emergency response just a few minutes away," Figiera said. "Were going to make sure our redeployers are safe and have access to outside sources if they have any needs or wants while they're here."

Allen affirmed the unwavering commitment of base personnel in providing the best experience possible for those service members in the controlled monitoring area.

"Our timeline is however long Headquarters Air Force needs us to have this facility open, and that's something that we can do," Allen said. "While this is a tough deal for service members coming back, they understand why it's happening and we're going to deliver an experience that is both comfortable and positive for them."