For service members supporting the U.S. Agency for International Development-led mission to combat Ebola, Operation United Assistance, resupply over the roads of Liberia has proven a challenge.
This was to be expected, as Liberia is a new theater for the military, and most routes are unpaved. Service members working shoulder to shoulder with Liberian locals, nongovernmental organizations and contractors have made a significant impact on this process.
Together troops and their Liberian partners have paved the way for the World Food Program to take over supply operations for Ebola treatment units by mid-December.
“We'll be transitioning resupply with the World Food Program,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Terri McFadden, senior logistics advisor, Joint Forces Command – United Assistance. The WFP is part of the United Nations, and the JFC-UA team is in the process of pushing additional supplies to the ETUs. Once the transition happens, they will transfer additional inbound supplies to the WFP who will then push to the ETUs.
An operation of this magnitude required extensive training and exercises for the WFP warehouse workers and other NGOs to ensure a successful handover.
The WFP is employing local labor with limited experience in logistics, said McFadden. So the JFC-UA is executing a training program for the WFP warehouse workers. These workers will perform warehouse operations, issuing, storage and handling resupplies. This will make everything more efficient. We're also doing initial supply for WFP forward logistics bases supporting the ETUs, to exercise the process with our partners and validate timelines and capabilities.
“We have five forward logistics bases throughout Liberia,” said Fethi Mohammed, World Food Program head of transport and operations at the Voinjama, Liberia, “They're strategically located to receive cargo and distribute it as fast as possible where it's needed. Any PPE or Ebola related response, we're helping those agencies deliver and stop the spread of Ebola.”
Sergeant First Class Gene Fisher, logistics noncommissioned officer, JFC-UA, said that the JFC and WFP have conducted training sessions geared toward resupplying the ETUs.
“We do kitting exercises to ensure the WFP is prepared and ready to take this mission over,” said Fisher. “As long as we fulfill our end, I'm confident the WFP will be able to pick up where we left off and continue this mission.”
The once-scarcely stocked warehouse located on the coast in Freeport is now lined with more than 400,000 sets of personal protective equipment and other commodities required for the success of this operation.
“It took time but we've managed to fill this place up,” said McFadden. The items and quantities being ordered aren't normal consumption. The JFC-UA team is looking for items not found in large quantities in the region that'll help prevent the spread of [the Ebola Virus Disease]. So getting these supplies has sometimes been difficult. They have had to use four different sources of supply, and they have purchase from local vendors when able.
What the service members and their partners have done here is significant, said McFadden. Building and supplying these treatment facilities is essential for the success of this mission.
“They depend on these supplies to treat the local people,” said McFadden. “There's a certain response and gratitude because they know it's important – especially from the small communities away from Monrovia.”
Though McFadden and Fisher truly believe in their mission, some family members expressed concerns for the safety of their loved ones and why they're in Liberia.
“When I told my family that I was coming here, they were confused,” said Fisher. “So I told them this as simple as I could. We're supposed to be the best in the world and the best is supposed to help those who can't help themselves. We need to get them to where they need to be to fight and be free of this disease.”
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