Written by Spc. Caitlyn Byrne
27th Public Affairs Detachment
Monrovia, Liberia – Whether they are learning new techniques to stay mentally resilient, exercising to stay physically strong, or washing their hands and applying hand sanitizer to prevent illness, service members deployed under Joint Forces Command – United Assistance, in Monrovia, Liberia, are always taking steps to stay healthy. The health of Soldiers is considered a top priority.
It is imperative that service members maintain a high level of health and physical well being so that in turn, they can provide the optimum amount of aid to the people and government of Liberia.Capt. Tyler Mark, force health protection officer for the JFC-UA surgeon cell, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), said that Soldiers deployed for Operation United Assistance are keeping up with their personal health practice requirements such as frequent hand washing and temperature checks.
“We have multiple checks and balances in place to ensure that Soldiers are staying healthy,” said the Kenosha, Wisconsin, native. “We’ve found that one of the most effective methods to have Soldiers comply with health standards is command influence, where if the commanding general says that his number one priority is health protection, Soldiers are even more likely to listen and follow instruction.”
But Mark said that command influence is more of an assurance than a necessity; Soldiers are more than willing to maintain proper health protection practices on their own, using the multiple bleach buckets located outside community buildings, washing their hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, carrying their required personal protection equipment and performing temperature checks twice daily.
Spc. William Ferguson, health specialist for Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 101st, said that he felt like his work as a health specialist deployed to Barclay Training Center in Monrovia, is actually making a difference in helping keep Soldiers healthy.
“Part of my duties here are to make sure that all the bleach buckets are filled,” said Ferguson, an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, native. “I check all the buckets spread around camp each hour, and I probably refill them about every two hours. It feels good to be a part of keeping everyone healthy here, and make a difference. People need to wash their hands and if I wasn’t doing my job, well, then that might not happen; people could get sick.”
There is a whole JFC-UA preventative medicine system in place to ensure that not only are Soldiers following proper health practices, but that they are provided with the resources and clean environment in which to live and operate, said Mark.
“It is a combined effort from the 61st Preventative Medicine Detachment and the 463rd Veterinary Detachment, who both fall under the 86th Combat Support Hospital,” said Mark. “The 61st conducts vector surveillance, vector sprays, dining facility health inspections and food and water safety, while the 463rd conducts more specific food and water testing of the food and water that is coming in to each camp to ensure that it is up to standard.”
Teams of two to four preventative measure and veterinary health specialists are sent to conduct weekly site visits of BTC and all other camps in Liberia, said Mark.
“Preventative medicine teams will walk around a site, checking for things like the proper dispersal and use of bed nets, the cleanliness of personal hygiene areas, dining facilities and sleeping areas,” Mark said. “They will go in and check the quality of the water and food being served to Soldiers, as well as randomly ask Soldiers if they are carrying the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).”
Mark said the health of Soldiers is paramount to the success of the mission and that JFC-UA has a complex and layered system in place to ensure Soldiers are both taken care of and taking care of themselves.
“Not only do we have our preventative medicine teams, we also have Inspector General teams conduct similar, independent assessments as well,” he said. “They mostly check with lower command leaders in charge at the various camps to gage the level of compliance with health practices. We also have the mayor cells of each camp ensure that there are Soldiers refilling the bleach buckets, conducting temperature checks and that sanitation contractors are doing their part as well.”
Mark’s team also has a way of tracking all the information that the preventative medicine teams collect.
“There is a lot of information to disseminate, so we use a Disease and Non-Battle Injury Report. Each JFC-UA camp sends up a daily report of the number of Soldiers who go to sick call and what symptoms they have. Based on those numbers we can create a fairly robust tracking system that we can adjust and evaluate. It is both site specific and a good picture of how our entire operation is running.”
As far as ensuring whether all these systems and preventative medicine practices are actually being used by Soldiers, Mark said that Col. Todd Vento, profis senior infectious disease subject matter expert from Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, came up with an anonymous survey to gauge exactly how closely Soldiers are following the recommended health practices.
Mark said they have found Malaria-carrying mosquitos in all of the JFC-UA camps in Liberia and the potential attack rate of the mosquitos is between 11 to 50 percent, meaning between 11 to 50 percent of Soldiers deployed in Liberia run the risk of getting bitten by a mosquito infected with Malaria. The number of Soldiers reported having Malaria is still zero.
“This situation is unique,” said Mark. “This is a different kind of deployment, this being a humanitarian mission with a huge emphasis on medical issues. It differs from the usual deployment because it is a very controlled environment when it comes to public health and preventative measures. There is little troop migration and when Soldiers do go out on mission there are numerous measures in place to ensure that they come back healthy. A far as force health protection, standards are always maintained, no matter the situation.”