Ramstein Airmen support Ebola fight, mitigate risks at home

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sara Keller
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
As service members travel to Africa in support of Operation United Assistance, Ramstein Air Base here continues to establish itself as a power projection platform for Europe and Africa.

Medical professionals from the 86th Medical Group, along with leadership throughout Ramstein AB, recently implemented plans to ensure safety precautions are taken to protect the aircrews, passengers and the 54,000 members of the Kaiserslautern Military Community.

Prior to departing from Ebola-affected areas, all personnel are screened and those categorized as "no known exposure" or "low risk of exposure" are allowed to board Air Force aircraft bound for Germany.

"Transient aircrew members who are on the ground for only a few hours are actually below the lowest Center for Disease Control exposure category," said Capt. (Dr.) Michael D'Amore, a 37th Airlift Squadron and 86th Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight surgeon. "Additionally, Airmen from the 86th Airlift Wing that are located in the areas of the Ebola outbreak are kept within secure Department of Defense areas. These areas are protected and monitored to prevent active or contagious cases of Ebola from coming in contact with our Airmen. Furthermore, all people within these DOD areas are monitored several times daily for any signs of symptoms."

According to Lt. Col. Juan Ramirez, the 86th AMDS public health flight commander, Airmen assigned to Ramstein AB will be monitored upon their return.

"Upon arrival, it is mandatory for all Airmen who are stationed here to have their temperature taken twice a day by a medical professional at the Ramstein clinic for 21 days," Ramirez said.

Because aircrew are consistently traveling in and out of the areas, they will be required to monitor their own temperature and report them twice a week to the flight medicine clinic at Ramstein AB. In addition to temperature checks, screening processes are completed before and after they go on missions to West Africa.

"Airmen are tracked and screened prior to departing and upon return," D'Amore said. "We track countries visited and potential contact with indigenous people, animals or exotic foods."

Although most of the Airmen from the 86th AW traveling into affected areas are considered transient aircrew and have minimal time on the ground in places like Liberia, the aircrews are educated and prepared on necessary protocol and procedures in the unlikely event an infected patient manifests symptoms on a U.S. Air Force aircraft.

"All aircrew members have been briefed in quarterly safety meetings and since then, several flight crew information files have been distributed on the topic of Ebola," D'Amore said. "FCIFs are mandatory documents that must be read prior to their next flight and they include information as well as procedures to protect our Airmen from exposure to Ebola, prevention of the virus on U.S. Air Force aircraft, and what to do in the event of a passenger presenting symptoms while in flight."

For transient passengers returning from Ebola affected areas landing at Ramstein AB, measures are in place to monitor those travelers passing through the base. Like aircrews, passengers will also be prescreened before departing affected areas.

"As personnel redeploy from West Africa to return to Ramstein, they'll be screened and cleared by 86th Medical Group public health staff," Ramirez said.

Ramirez explained that personnel transiting through Ramstein will have their temperatures taken right on the flightline, with further monitoring continued at their final destinations.

With President Barack Obama's announcements to increase U.S. efforts to respond to the Ebola virus epidemic, U.S. Africa Command is working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to deliver much needed support. Part of AFRICOM's effort is the tactical theater airlift provided by the 86th AW, now in conjunction with the 86th MDG's efforts to educate and keep Airmen safe.

"Containing this Ebola outbreak is a necessity on a global and national scale," D'Amore said. "Therefore, the Airmen of the 86th AW are vital for support of DOD and national efforts. It's exciting to be a part of a large and evolving operation such as this. One of the main functions of medical in the military is to prevent the spread of disease throughout the fighting force, and that is a big reason why we train and prepare service members to help in this outbreak that now has international attention."