The 100 soldiers from Fort Carson’s 615th Engineer Company have their temperature recorded twice a day. They’ve been lining up for these temperature checks for more than two weeks now. They’ve gotten so good at it, the whole battalion can get through the line in 20 minutes.
Doctors are monitoring them for Ebola, but it’s unlikely they were exposed. Before this, they were in Liberia for two months as part of the U.S. humanitarian response to the Ebola epidemic.
They arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord January 1, 2015. Since then they’ve been confined to four WWII-era barracks where they eat, sleep and kill time in between temperature checks.
The troops have named this place Camp Blackjack, because they stay for exactly 21 days, the CDC’s recommended monitoring period for people potentially exposed to Ebola.
“Twenty one days is not much at all. They feed us well. So it’s just a time for everyone to unwind and then get back. But it definitely could be worse,” platoon leader Lt. Kyle Maggard said.
None of the troops has shown symptoms. But in the unlikely event that one did, Lt. Col. Rodd Marcum said Madigan Army Medical Center personnel are well trained to respond.
“We do have protocols in place to don the appropriate protective equipment, both the patient and staff, and then we have a vehicle that we can bring them over to Madigan where they can be further tested," Marcum said.
The U.S. is winding down the humanitarian mission in West Africa after building clinics and helping locals develop plans to treat the infected. JBLM is one of five bases where the Army is monitoring troops.
Capt. Ryan Horton said his soldiers are using part of their time here to take computer courses on things like substance abuse and cyber security. “Other soldiers are taking classes online to get promotion points. So everyone should come out of here a lot better and moving their career forward once we get back,” Horton said.
In the meantime, the soldiers confined here can get a haircut, workout in the fitness tent, watch TV or play video games. Their food is brought to them but it has to be left outside a chain link fence. They can even order pizza, but it has to be left outside, too.
Lt. Maggard understands the precautions, but he said he never felt at risk of contracting Ebola. “There was that hysteria of, 'Oh my God this is gonna be a pandemic, and we’re never going to contain this.' Well, you know, we can contain this,” Maggard said.
The 100 soldiers are expected to return to Fort Carson Thursday, but officials here said another group will arrive soon.