The United States can only evacuate four Ebola-stricken American soldiers per week from West Africa to the United States for treatment, according to the Pentagon.
That may change in January of next year when the Pentagon is expected to procure isolation pods that will be able to transport more symptomatic troops out of West Africa. Approximately 3,000 troops are to be deployed on the Ebola mission in West Africa by the end of 2014.
Major Gen. James M. Lariviere, the deputy director of Political-Military Affairs at the Pentagon, revealed that currently, there is only one plane in West Africa to transport symptomatic soldiers to the United States for treatment. This aircraft has the capacity to carry one person at a time and make four trips per week.
Gen. Lariviere made those revelations while Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) grilled him during an October 24 Ebola hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“At present time the only aircraft that can move the symptomatic patients is the State Department’s Phoenix Air contract that you’ve seen moving the other Ebola patients,” Gen. Lariviere told Rep. McHenry. “The aircraft can hold one at a time and can do four movements a week at this point,” added the general, ultimately conceding, “”We don’t know if it’s sufficient.”
“This is very disconcerting,” responded the North Carolina Congressman.
The Pentagon official noted that there will be in the “vicinity of 3,000” American troops in West Africa fighting Ebola by the end of the year.
He emphasized that U.S. troops will not be treating Ebola patients directly. Nevertheless, defense officials have said that a group of American sailors will be handling mobile labs that contain Ebola patients’ bodily fluids.
We currently have one plane that is controlled by the State Department. I’m asking the Department of Defense, with the mass number of airplanes, equipment and training capacity that we have [and] spending nearly half a trillion dollars annually on the Department of Defense, if you need it, we will get it.
“We will demand it because if we’re putting these men and women in harm’s way, potentially where they can contract Ebola, the idea that we have one airplane as the United States to get these men and women out of country in a safe manner,” he continued, “if they contract what is absolutely horrible, which we wanted to control, which we absolutely want to control, the idea that you’re coming before us and giving this type of testimony raises great concerns.”
Gen. Lariviere pointed out that the Pentagon is working to enhance the aircraft-carrying capacity by January of next year.
The Pentagon is putting together “an isolation pod that can carry multiple persons for C17 aircrafts. …Development will begin in October, testing in December, procurement will begin in January,” the General explained.
The isolation units allow aircraft to carry “15 individuals” at a time, according to Lariviere. A number of the isolation pods will be built to increase movement capacity, he added.
Charles Bass, a Pentagon chemical engineer working on the isolation pods, told USA Today that the isolation pods “will allow the Air Force to use C-17 or C-130 transport planes to carry up to eight patients on stretchers or 12 patients who are able to walk.”