As the mission of Joint Forces Command – United Assistance comes to an end, there are a few more tasks that service members, deployed in support of Operation United Assistance, have to complete.
The 1st Area Medical Laboratory, based out of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, deployed as Task Force Scientist in support of OUA, is closing all four of their Ebola testing laboratories in Liberia.
The 1st AML is designed as a deployable analytical laboratory with a diagnostic capability to detect and identify environment contaminations that could harm service members on the battlefield.
The professionals provide combatant commanders with health hazard assessments of environmental, occupational, endemic and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive threats, also called CBRNE, in support of force protection and weapons of mass destruction missions.
Made up of microbiologists, biochemist, and laboratory technicians from the 1st AML, Task Force Scientist also includes Sailors from the Naval Medicine Research Center, and civil affairs and military police Soldiers.
With the motto of “Soldier-scientists,” they test air, water, soil, food, waste and vectors like insects, animals and blood, for various kinds of contaminants. To do this, the unit was structured into three specific areas: biological, chemical, and occupational and environmental health, said Col. Patrick Garman, commander of the 1st AML.
"The 1st AML has brought state-of-the-art analyzers and experienced personnel who have been able to analyze and identify Ebola in human samples as well as other endemic diseases in a very professional manner," he said.
The main 1st AML mission was to establish four Ebola testing laboratories in austere environments at Tappita, Sanniquellie, Greenville and Zwedru since arriving in mid-October. The Soldier-scientists have tested over 4,500 Ebola suspected samples, said Garman, a native of Troy, Ohio.
Zwedru was the first Ebola testing lab to close, shutting down operations Feb. 9, while the other three labs are scheduled to shut down over the next few weeks.
“It’s been more than 90 days since the last confirmed Ebola case [in Grand Gedeh County],” said Capt. Shawn Palmer, a biochemist for the Zwedru lab, with the 1st AML, and a native of Loma, Colorado.
On an average day, the Zwedru lab would receive samples in the morning and began the testing process with paper work and safety preparations, said Palmer.
After all the paper work is filed, the technicians decontaminate the samples by extracting the Ribonucleic acid from each sample, a process that takes about three hours, Palmer said.
“Here at the Zwedru lab, we haven’t received any positive samples for Ebola, which is great for the people of this community,” said Palmer.
For Palmer, being a part of this mission was a chance to experience something new and different.
“This was an great opportunity to come to Liberia and help the community and the locals try to eradicate Ebola,” said Palmer.
Proud of what has been accomplished, it’s the Soldiers and the support received that has made this mission success.
“We have received nothing but the upmost support from the JFC, 101st [Airborne] Division, and our Soldiers have benefited from that,” said Garman.
“We have Soldiers out in austere locations and hours away from the headquarters; they have been part Peace Corps, part diplomats, part scientist, but always professional Soldiers,” said Garman.