Support our mission
Capt. Jason Robinson, a C-130J aircraft commander and instructor pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, pictured Nov. 6, 2014, holds up the digital thermometer he's been using to check his temperature twice a day since returning from a flying mission to Liberia, one of three countries in West Africa dealing with an Ebola virus outbreak.

Capt. Jason Robinson, a C-130J aircraft commander and instructor pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, pictured Nov. 6, 2014, holds up the digital thermometer he's been using to check his temperature twice a day since returning from a flying mission to Liberia, one of three countries in West Africa dealing with an Ebola virus outbreak. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Capt. Jason Robinson, a C-130J aircraft commander and instructor pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, pictured Nov. 6, 2014, holds up the digital thermometer he's been using to check his temperature twice a day since returning from a flying mission to Liberia, one of three countries in West Africa dealing with an Ebola virus outbreak.

Capt. Jason Robinson, a C-130J aircraft commander and instructor pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, pictured Nov. 6, 2014, holds up the digital thermometer he's been using to check his temperature twice a day since returning from a flying mission to Liberia, one of three countries in West Africa dealing with an Ebola virus outbreak. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Flight crews assigned to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, returning from missions to countries dealing with the Ebola virus outbreak were issued digital thermometers to perform self-temperature checks twice a day for 21 days. As "transient" personnel, flight crews are subject to less stringent monitoring requirements than other U.S. servicemembers returning from West Africa.

Flight crews assigned to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, returning from missions to countries dealing with the Ebola virus outbreak were issued digital thermometers to perform self-temperature checks twice a day for 21 days. As "transient" personnel, flight crews are subject to less stringent monitoring requirements than other U.S. servicemembers returning from West Africa. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Capt. Michael D'Amore, a doctor and flight surgeon with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Capt. Michael D'Amore, a doctor and flight surgeon with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Master Sgt. Nathan Tilton, a flight engineer with the 76th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Master Sgt. Nathan Tilton, a flight engineer with the 76th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Capt. Jason Robinson, C-130J aircraft commander and instructor pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Capt. Jason Robinson, C-130J aircraft commander and instructor pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Capt. Brian Shea with the 37th Airlift Squadron performs a preflight walk around his C-130 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as his crew prepares to deliver pallets of water and Meals, Ready to Eat to Liberia in support of the U.S. military's effort to fight Ebola in West Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014.

Capt. Brian Shea with the 37th Airlift Squadron performs a preflight walk around his C-130 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as his crew prepares to deliver pallets of water and Meals, Ready to Eat to Liberia in support of the U.S. military's effort to fight Ebola in West Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Airman 1st Class Addison Schneider, with the 721st Aerial Port Squadron, directs a loader after pallets of water and Meals, Ready to Eat were transferred onto a C-130 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. The supplies were headed to Liberia in support of the U.S. military effort to fight Ebola in West Africa.

Airman 1st Class Addison Schneider, with the 721st Aerial Port Squadron, directs a loader after pallets of water and Meals, Ready to Eat were transferred onto a C-130 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. The supplies were headed to Liberia in support of the U.S. military effort to fight Ebola in West Africa. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Tech. Sgt. C.J. Campbell, loadmaster instructor with the 37th Airlift Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Tech. Sgt. C.J. Campbell, loadmaster instructor with the 37th Airlift Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

A C-130 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is ready for loading pallets of water and Meals, Ready to Eat for delivery to Liberia in support of the U.S. military effort to fight Ebola in West Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014.

A C-130 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is ready for loading pallets of water and Meals, Ready to Eat for delivery to Liberia in support of the U.S. military effort to fight Ebola in West Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — When Tech. Sgt. C.J. Campbell walks in the door after a day at work, the thermometer resting on his kitchen table is a reminder that it’s been fewer than 21 days since he returned from a mission to West Africa.

The twice-daily temperature checks have become a routine part of the Ramstein-based loadmaster instructor’s daily activities.

“It’s like waking up and shaving in the morning,” Campbell said.

Days before Halloween, Campbell, 40, of St. Louis, flew on his first mission to Liberia, delivering military personnel and supplies to one of three countries battling the world’s largest epidemic of the Ebola virus.

Upon returning, public health checked his temperature and issued him a digital thermometer. So far, he said, he’s been symptom-free.

Unlike other American military personnel returning from Ebola outbreak areas, Campbell and his fellow aircrew members with the 37th Airlift Squadron are not subject to the Pentagon’s stringent 21-day monitoring for possible Ebola symptoms in an isolated military facility.

The strict protocols, which supersede guidance set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for travelers returning from the afflicted region, don’t apply to those on flying missions.

The Defense Department classifies aircrew members as “transient” — personnel who only transit an airfield of a country where an Ebola virus outbreak is occurring.

They’re told to check and record their temperatures twice a day for 21 days — considered the maximum incubation period for the virus – and during that time, make twice-weekly visits to medical staff. A fever over 100.4 Fahrenheit or other Ebola-like symptoms would prompt notification of their medical provider and immediate treatment.

That “transient” status means flying squads adhere to multiple layers of safety protocols while supporting missions to West Africa in order to remain in the less stringent monitoring category.

At the international airport in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, where supplies and passengers are off-loaded, aircrews aren’t allowed to get off the plane or have physical contact with anyone on the ground — including U.S. military personnel working at the terminal who are also following strict infection control procedures.

“They tell you no shaking hands,” said Master Sgt. Nathan Tilton, 40, a 76th Airlift Squadron flight engineer from Long Island, N.Y. “They want to ensure that we stay in that transient aircrew status. It’s just an extra layer of protection between us and them.”

Following those protocols to maintain their “transient” status, aircrews remain eligible to fly again within the 21-day window upon returning from West Africa. Military personnel outside that category are not authorized temporary-duty travel from the local area to assure continued face-to-face monitoring, according to DOD guidance.

If flight personnel were sidelined for 21 days, “it would obviously be detrimental,” said Capt. Jason Robinson, 32, a C-130 aircraft commander and instructor pilot from Lake Mary, Fla., who flew on the same mission to Liberia with Campbell. “It would be a fairly short time before we would not be able to operate effectively,” since there are a limited number of crews available.

An airman tasked to fly again before 21 days will just resume self-temperature checks when returning to Germany, said Capt. Michael D’Amore, a doctor from Albuquerque, N.M., and the 37th Airlift Squadron flight surgeon.

“The clock resets to when you last left that area,” he said of West Africa.

D’Amore, Campbell, Robinson and Tilton have flown to West Africa once since Oct. 7, when Ramstein began supporting Operation United Assistance, the U.S.-led effort to help end the current Ebola outbreak.

As of Oct. 31, Ramstein had flown 12 missions to the region, transporting more than 280 passengers and more than 380 short tons of cargo, including food, water and medical supplies, according to base officials. As of Nov. 7, the virus has killed 4,950 people, with more than half of those deaths reported in Liberia, according to data from the CDC and World Health Organization.

Ramstein aircrew members said they had no qualms about flying into the heart of the outbreak.

“I wasn’t particularly nervous about it really,” Robinson said. “I kind of felt that the safeguards we had in place were sufficient. There wasn’t really a reason to be concerned, as long as you’re smart and follow the guidance that we have.”

Robinson and the others said they were eager to do their part to help stamp out a global crisis.

“There’s a piece of all of us, I think, that want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” D’Amore said.

Their families, however, weren’t initially as enthusiastic, they said.

For Campbell, it was his mom who worried.

“My wife is really good about it. All my brothers and sisters are really good about it. My mom’s the one, ‘Well, just be careful. They’ve got sensitive cargo on there,’ ” he said.

Tilton said his wife had many questions. “She just wants the information. Once she has the information that we are given from the flight docs and our leadership ... letting them know is half the battle.”

It helps, too, when family members hear upon their loved ones’ return just how little time they spent in Liberia.

Robinson and Campbell said their plane was on the tarmac at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia for all of 75 minutes. Neither one of them set foot on the ground there.

“We shut down, I opened the (ramp) doors up” and a crew of U.S. Air Force personnel currently deployed to Monrovia off-loaded the equipment, Campbell said.

“I physically push the cargo on to their support equipment and then they drive away and we drive away, essentially,” he said.

As the flight engineer on a C-37A, an aircraft designated to transport senior military leaders, Tilton’s experience was slightly different. He was the only one authorized to get out of the plane when it landed at Monrovia.

“I have to make sure that, on approach, the aircraft didn’t hit any birds; just a general looking around the airplane,” he said.

After a brief assessment for damage, Tilton and his five-member crew sat in the plane for about five hours until their passengers came back.

The senior-ranking officials who returned must also follow established Ebola infection control protocols before getting back on the plane, Tilton said.

Though Tilton and his crew can’t visit the airport for a snack, they don’t go hungry. The C-37A crew includes a flight attendant, who prepares food and provides beverages for passengers and crew. Crew members are given the same food as the high-ranking passengers, Tilton said, though the crew has to pay for it.

There are no hot meals, however, on C-130s. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, canned tuna and Meals-Ready-to-Eat were among the provisions Campbell and Robinson packed on their West Africa mission.

“Canned tuna never spoils,” Campbell said. “We have a microwave on the plane.”

Camp-style dining is par for the course, they said. The biggest challenge, Robinson said, has been “really just the environment, and everyone’s response to it has been ever-changing.”

As the aircraft commander, he has to keep up on the latest guidance, including “temperature-tracking and other requirements that are coming depending on where you land — just making sure you’re current with all those so you can keep in compliance with them.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
twitter Email

Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up