Maine soldiers helping Ebola treatment efforts in Liberia

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A Mainer from Hartland, a platoon leader with the 902nd Engineer Company, helped build a 50-patient Ebola treatment unit in Liberia, and another from Bingham is the noncommissioned officer in charge of protection, lodging and logistics for the facility.

1st Lt. Abraham Richardson and the 902nd built the first Ebola treatment unit, which opened on Dec. 21 in Buchanan, Liberia, in just 22 days, and 1st Sgt. Joseph Taylor of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 36th Engineer Brigade, is the noncommissioned officer who leads the unit’s mayor’s cell.

The 36th, which is from Fort Hood, Texas, is tasked with building more Ebola treatment units, and Taylor’s duties, as the head of the mayor’s cell, include keeping things running smoothly.

“His role is to provide everything we need on the base we are staying at, the National Police Training Center, which we share with the Liberian police,” Capt. Eric Hudson, spokesman for the 36th, said Saturday by email from Paynesville, Liberia.

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“When soldiers come here, the mayor’s cell ensures those individuals are facilitated with lodging and safety,” Taylor said in a story posted Saturday by Sgt. Ange Desinor of the 13th Public Affairs Detachment. “The welfare of soldiers and their safety is top priority.”

Operation United Assistance is a Department of Defense initiative in Liberia to provide logistics, training and engineering support to U.S. Agency for International Development-led efforts to contain the Ebola virus outbreak in western Africa, according to Desinor.

“We are overseeing the building and sustainment of 10 Ebola treatment units,” Hudson said. “Most of them will be complete by the beginning of the year.”

The first facility completed, named the Buchanan Ebola treatment unit, was handed over to the International Organization for Migration, which customized the facility for its needs before opening it to the public, Desinor said. The Buchanan Ebola treatment unit has 170 workers and 50 beds for patients. The engineering company received local support and equipment from the community to help build the treatment facility, Richardson said.

In addition to providing secure lodging and safety for the 36th, the mayor’s cell also helps keep morale up by offering entertainment and enrichment programs, an air-conditioned gym with refreshments and a television, and a regular movie night, Taylor said.

“We are here for the soldiers,” Capt. Ashley Towns, the officer in charge of the mayor’s cell, said. “All the things that happen throughout the day — whether it’s a facility problem or cleanliness or security — you need the mayor’s cell.”

Sometimes, however, there is no easy fix to a problem, Taylor said.

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘first-world problem in a third-world country,’” the Bingham native said. “Meaning something that can be easily fixed back home is a tremendous event because of all the things you have to deal with to get it fixed.”

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