Germany-based aircraft take supplies to Liberia for Ebola fight
October 7, 2014
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The first Europe-based U.S. military aircraft based here departed early Monday for Liberia on what is expected to be one of many flights taking supplies to West Africa to help with the Ebola outbreak there.
Before daylight, airmen loaded six pallets of cargo, including bottled water and portable food rations — Meals, Ready to Eat — onto the rear ramp of a C-130J Super Hercules on Ramstein’s flight line.
The effort is part of what President Barack Obama has called an “air bridge” to take people and supplies to western Africa, said 86th Airlift Wing spokesman Maj. Tony Wickman.
The plane, carrying aircrew, loadmasters and security personnel, was expected to stop in Spain and Senegal before landing to unload some or all of its cargo in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. Crews were expected to spend only a short time on the ground.
“It’s exciting to get to do this and help out in any way we can,” said Capt. Brian Shea, a pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein and the mission’s aircraft commander. “It’s big for our unit, big for the air wing,” to help U.S. Africa Command with the mission.
Pentagon officials have said the United States could send almost 4,000 military personnel to West Africa in the coming weeks to help with the fight against the Ebola virus. The virus is spreading rapidly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where it has killed more than 3,400 people since March, according to the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Total cases so far total more than 7,400.
It’s not certain whether the supplies being ferried by the 37th Airlift Squadron were designated for U.S. military personnel supporting the humanitarian effort in West Africa or for other international relief agencies, Air Force officials said.
At this stage in the Defense Department’s response, “we can’t clarify or identify who the supplies out of Ramstein are meant for,” said Air Force 2nd Lt. Henry Lancaster, an 86th Airlift Wing spokesman, in an email.
More than 200 U.S. military personnel are already in the region, according to the Pentagon.
Pentagon officials have said the risk of American servicemembers’ getting infected is relatively low since U.S. troops won’t be taking direct care of Ebola patients.
Shea, the C-130 pilot at Ramstein, said he wasn’t worried about exposure to the virus. “No real concern,” he said. “We’re trying to minimize our time on the ground in that area for now. Later down the road, we’ll see what changes.”
The squadron expects the airlift mission to West Africa “to be a regular run for us, almost weekly,” he said.
Crew members heading out Monday were briefed and trained “on how to handle the situation,” he said.
“We have several medical members in our unit assigned to us. They give us all the advice we could ever need on how to handle Ebola, malaria,” Shea said. He said that malaria — a virus that can be spread by the bite of an infected mosquito — “is our biggest threat down there.”