U.S. troops in Italy after Ebola mission

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

updated 3:34 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • American troops who helped fight Ebola in West Africa are under “controlled monitoring” in Italy
  • The Italian government expressed concern about the troops when they returned to Italy from Liberia
  • CNN spoke with Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams via a military video conferencing system

Washington (CNN) — They’re just back from the Ebola hot zone, they can’t have any physical contact with family or loved ones and their plastic forks are being burned after each use.

But American troops quarantined in Italy have good morale and are proud of their work against the “silent enemy” of Ebola, according to Major General Darryl Williams, who is being isolated alongside his men at the Army base in Vicenza.

U.S. Army personnel will continue to be placed in 21-day quarantine as they return home to their base in Italy, according to Williams, commander of US Army forces in Africa, who spoke to CNN from within the isolation area by military video conference.

He said he and his initial team of about a dozen American personnel are in day three of what the Army calls ‘controlled monitoring’ at the American military base in Vicenza, Italy. He said none of his team so far are showing any symptoms.

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“The morale is high and very comfortable with the contribution we made,” said Williams, who added that 75 more service members will return this week to quarantine on the Vicenza base.

Williams emphasized Ebola “is a silent enemy” for the US military and noted the military mobile labs for Ebola testing on the ground are the front line of the Pentagon’s effort to help.

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The quarantine procedure is meant to reassure both military families and the Italian government that the US is doing everything it can to protect troops, the families and the surrounding communities, Williams said. He noted the Italians had expressed concerns about troops returning to Vicenza after serving in Liberia for 30 days on the initial mission to set up a military effort there to aid in the Ebola crisis.

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No outside contact, food utensils burned

Williams outlined to CNN the quarantine conditions in detail. He said food is left in a room by a team that departs before the soldiers in isolation enter the room. Then Williams and his team come in to eat and leave. After that the utensils – generally plastic ware – are collected and burned. The troops are taking their own temperature twice a day.

There is no physical contact with the outside world, but there is access to phones and the internet. And Williams said the entire team is remaining busy with regular military business and physical fitness.

“The team provided us the ability to have exercise equipment, so the folks are eating well, they are exercising and I am currently talking to you from one of my smaller headquarters, and I have the ability to get on computers and interface with my family,” Williams said. “I am a grandfather, I talk to my daughter and granddaughter on Skype.”

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All the military members are well aware of the controversies and uncertainties about Ebola back in the United States, Williams said, noting at one point he even had to discuss protection measures with his mother. As the initial U.S. military commander in Liberia, Williams traveled extensively in Liberia, but said numerous precautions were taken for all the troops. He noted he never came into direct contract with people ill with Ebola but did tour some Ebola testing areas. He said he generally kept a three foot distance and constantly washed his hands. At one point during his time in the hot zone his temperature was taken eight times a day.

The Army is the only service so far requiring mandatory controlled monitoring of its personnel. A senior U.S. official told CNN that a recommendation on what type of monitoring should take place for all troops is expected to go to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week and a decision could be made fairly soon. There are more than 1,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Africa, with as many as 3,000 more set to deploy, and many of them may not come into contact with local citizens or military on ground. The major complication however may be the sheer logistics of keeping such a large number of people in 21 day isolation.

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