The Pentagon has ordered U.S. Northern Command to set up a 30-person military rapid-response medical team to bolster civilian hospitals in efforts to combat domestic cases of Ebola.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave the order over the weekend to Army Gen. Charles Jacoby, the NorthCom commander with responsibility for homeland defense, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
"They will not be sent to West Africa or elsewhere overseas and will be called upon domestically only if deemed prudent by our public health professionals," Kirby said Sunday of the "expeditionary" response team.
The team was formed at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services as a precautionary measure "to ensure our nation is ready to respond quickly, effectively and safely in the event of additional Ebola cases in the United States."
Jacoby was tasking the military services to provide the personnel for the joint team that will include 20 critical care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious disease, and five trainers in infectious disease protocols and personal protective equipment (PPE).
It will take about a week to select the personnel, and they will then be sent to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for specialized training from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Kirby said.
The formation of the response team was another indication of the growing military commitment to combating Ebola -- thus far primarily through support of public health efforts in West Africa.
In his weekly address, which was devoted entirely to the Ebola epidemic, President Obama said: "We're sharing lessons learned so other hospitals don't repeat the mistakes that happened in Dallas."
He referred to the Ebola cases at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, died of the disease on Oct. 8, and two nurses who treated him -- Nina Pham and Amber Vinson -- later contracted the virus.
The White House and the Centers for Disease Control have said that mistakes were likely made in the use of personal protective equipment by the Dallas hospital, which relied on guidelines from the CDC that have since been revamped.
The White House and the CDC have also said that the only effective method of containment was to focus on curbing the spread of Ebola in West Africa, where the virus has hit hardest in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
More than 4,500 deaths and nearly 10,000 cases of infection have been reported in those three countries, according to the World Health Organization.
The U.S. military currently has about 550 personnel in West Africa -- more than 400 in Liberia and about 100 in Senegal, which is serving as an intermediate staging base for the flow of personnel and supplies into the region.
The military's priority currently is to construct a 25-bed field hospital for the treatment of health care workers who may have contracted Ebola and also 17 treatment centers of 100 beds each.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.