US Troops Return From Ebola-Related Mission for Monitoring in Germany

A view from a barracks being used to monitor military personnel for symptoms of Ebola at Baumholder's Smith Barracks. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)
A view from a barracks being used to monitor military personnel for symptoms of Ebola at Baumholder's Smith Barracks. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- The first planeload of American servicemembers returning to Germany from Africa touched down Tuesday after the German government approved a U.S. Army-run Ebola monitoring facility on its soil.

"We are grateful to Germany for its assistance in confronting this global health concern," said Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for U.S. European Command.

The monitoring site is located on the Army's Smith Barracks in Baumholder, about 20 miles north of Ramstein Air Base. An Air Force C-17 carrying 54 passengers touched down at Ramstein on Tuesday morning, according to the base's 86th Airlift Wing. It's not known if all passengers were U.S. troops, and officials have not said if all 54 were taken to Baumholder.

Most of the preparations for the monitoring complex were finished more than a week ago.

Personnel who returned to Germany following their mission in Africa will be confined to the facility for 21 days and be under medical observation for signs of Ebola infection. The monitoring complex is surrounded by a fence that officials said is meant to keep people from accidentally wandering in as much as it is to keep monitored personnel isolated.

Personnel -- who were medically screened before leaving Africa and upon landing in Germany -- will be tested twice daily for symptoms of Ebola over the three weeks they're in seclusion.

Troops who show any Ebloa-like symptoms before arriving in Baumholder, even if it's not confirmed they have the disease, will not be sent to the monitoring facility. They will be treated elsewhere.

Officials said it is extremely unlikely that any servicemember sent to Baumholder will contract Ebola as troops sent there will be of "no-known risk" for infection.

The 21-days of monitoring "is an added precaution to guarantee the clean bill of health of all servicemembers before they reintegrate into their workplaces and communities," Hicks said. "These measures will also safeguard the health of German citizens in the Baumholder community."

Baumholder residents who spoke with Stars and Stripes about the monitoring site were largely ambivalent about its presence and don't believe it poses a risk to the local community.

"We're not happy to have it, but we have it," said Axel Häntsch, who owns Portofino, an Italian restaurant less than a mile from the main gate of Smith Barracks.

His only issue is that "we run a home delivery, too, and the guys in the quarantine" won't be able to take advantage of that.

"Otherwise, it's no big problem," Häntsch said.

German residents of Baumholder knew about the monitoring site even before it was announced by the Defense Department on Nov. 7. It was mostly Germans who work for the Army who prepared the facility and told family and friends about it, residents said. Work on the facility started about a week before the DOD announcement, Army officials said.

Peter Goettel, owner of the Stadtkrug restaurant about a 10-minute walk from Smith Barracks, said he's fine with the facility, but the lack of official information from the Army or German government was frustrating.

"We're not in the States. This is German property," Goettel said. "They have to talk to us. That's my thing."

The monitoring facility includes four barracks buildings, a medical clinic and a temporary chow hall inside the fence, and a headquarters building outside the perimeter. The Army has outfitted each of the barracks with a full suite of entertainment options including workout equipment, wireless Internet access, game consoles, books, pool and foosball tables and other items.

Army officials said one of the biggest challenges of going through monitoring won't be Ebola, but keeping boredom at bay during three weeks in isolation.

Stars and Stripes reporter Jennifer H. Svan contributed to this report.

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