Army Secretary: 'I Certainly Would Not Suggest to Any Family, Don't Be Worried'

Susan Jones | October 16, 2014 | 5:31am EDT
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Army Secretary John McHugh, left, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno arrive on Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. (AP File Photo)

( - Ebola is "a very concerning matter," Secretary of the Army John McHugh told reporters on Wednesday. "I certainly would not suggest to any family, don't be worried, don't be concerned. Every time a solider goes forward on any mission, there's concern. And -- and this is a very concerning matter."

Hundreds of U.S. military personnel are now in Liberia to help that country deal with its raging Ebola epidemic. Thousands more are expected to arrive in the coming weeks and months.

McHugh said the U.S. military has been working "very, very closely" with its own medical experts as well as outside medical authorities "to ensure that we're providing a training regimen that appropriately prepares our soldiers for what they're expected to encounter."

And while some military personnel will be testing blood samples in mobile medical labs, "they're not going there to be placed in direct contact with any Ebola patients," McHugh said.

"So I think we've done everything we possible can, and there's every reasonable expectation that, you know, our soldiers' safety are being maintained. But it is something we're going to have to watch very, very carefully. This is an evolving situation."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, appearing with McHugh at the Army town hall, said the initial mission will not put Americans in direct contact with Ebola patients. "They are there to provide the structure, support structure" for other organizations, he said.

"So the mission that we have is not one, immediately, that we're gonna directly deal with patients. We might have, maybe, a tiny amount, but right now that's not what we're doing. And so, what we're trying to do is build the infrastructure that allows the response to save thousands of lives."

The U.S. military is sending engineers and logistics experts to Liberia to build clinics and move supplies to where they're needed.

Odierno said the U.S. is providing troops with protective gear and training. "We are making sure that every one of our soldiers who deploys understands the environment they're going into and the precautions that we take.

"And they will continue to get updates while they were there. When they come out, we will have those same precautions to make sure that we understand that they are protected and...that they are free of the virus.

"[W]e are taking, I believe, extraordinary measures to ensure that happens. And the main thing is we're also briefing the families and the soldiers of exactly what we're doing and what the risk is, so they understand that.

"You know, our risk assessment is the risk to our soldiers is low, but I'm not going to ever sit here and tell you it's not possible that something could happen, because it might. But I think we're taking every single precaution necessary to ensure the safety of our soldiers. It is the number one priority we have to make sure they're educated and trained to be -- to protect themselves, both going in and while they're there. OK?"

Both Odierno and McHugh said the military carries out the duties assigned to it without question.

"So, when we come in the Army, we raise our right hand to defend the Constitution. We have a commander in chief who's asked us to do a mission. When he asks us to do a mission, we do it. So, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how hard it is, we do the mission," Odierno said.

"And we can argue over whether you think it's a good mission or a bad mission, it doesn't matter. We wear this uniform, we're given a mission, we do it.

"In this case, I would just tell you, my personal opinion is, I think the instability this could create is something that we do not want to happen. So it's important that we intercede."

McHugh agreed: "I would just say in this case, I think America has a very direct interest, and -- and our security interests are -- are in question here. We have cases of confirmed Ebola infection -- infections here in the United States. I'm not scientist, but I think all of us could reasonably assume that that will continue.

"So it -- it does seem to me to be in our national interest to -- in all of the world community's national interest -- to -- to come together and to work to control this."

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