WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2014 —
The Department of Defense is playing a unique role in the United States’ comprehensive Ebola response efforts, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict told Congress today.
Those efforts are a “national security priority in response to a global threat,” Michael D. Lumpkin said during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee.
Lumpkin leads the department’s Ebola task force, which has been tasked with evaluating how DoD can most effectively support overarching U.S. government and international efforts to stop the spread of Ebola.
“The department has been called upon to provide interim solutions that will allow other departments and agencies the time necessary to expand and deploy their own capabilities,” he said. “United States military efforts are also galvanizing a more robust and coordinated international effort, which is essential to contain this threat and to [reducing] human suffering.”
A Top-notch U.S. Team
The assistant secretary said he drew several conclusions from a recent trip to Liberia to evaluate the evolving crisis and ongoing work by DoD personnel in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“Our government has deployed a top-notch team experienced in dealing with disasters and humanitarian assistance,” Lumpkin told the committee.
In addition, he said, “the Liberian government is doing what it can with its very limited resources.”
Lumpkin said he traveled to the region thinking he would encounter a health care crisis with a logistics challenge. “In reality, we face a logistics crisis focused on a health care challenge.”
The U.S. effort to limit further spread of Ebola has spurred other nations to respond, the assistant secretary said, which is critical in addressing a situation in which speed and scaled response are essential.
“Incremental responses will be outpaced by this dynamic epidemic,” he said.
The Ebola epidemic is truly a national security issue, Lumpkin said. Without the U.S. government's coordinated response in West Africa, the spread of the virus brings the risk of more cases in the United States.
A Whole-of-government Mission
DOD is working in direct support of USAID in West Africa, he said. U.S. military forces there have a two-fold mission, the assistant secretary said.
“First, support USAID in overall U.S. government efforts,” he said. “And the second is respond to Department of State requests for security or evacuation assistance if required.”
DoD personnel are not involved in direct care of Ebola-exposed patients, Lumpkin stressed. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved military activities that fall under four lines of effort: “command and control, logistics support, engineering support, and training assistance,” he told committee members.
Since the initial deployment of troops, DoD personnel have worked in support of these lines of effort, the assistant secretary said.
Their accomplishments include “establishing an intermediate staging base in Dakar, Senegal; providing strategic and tactical airlift; constructing a 25-bed hospital in Monrovia; constructing 12 Ebola treatment units in Liberia; training local and third-country health care support personnel, enabling them to serve as first responders in ETUs ... throughout Liberia,” Lumpkin said.
In each of those missions, he added, the protection of DoD personnel and the prevention of disease transmission are chief planning factors. “There is no higher operational priority than protecting our Department of Defense personnel,” the assistant secretary said.
In the United States, the Defense Department has increased support to the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, he said, noting that they are the lead agencies for Ebola response in the United States. As part of that support, DoD has activated a medical support team capable of rapidly augmenting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention capabilities anywhere in the country, Lumpkin said.
Long-term Response Planning
The department also is focusing on longer-term requirements to counter Ebola, he noted.
To that end, DoD requested $112 million for the Defense Advance Research Project Agency in its recent emergency funding request, the assistant secretary said. The additional funds will support the development of technologies relevant to the Ebola crisis, he explained.
“This includes new research focused on utilizing the antibodies of Ebola survivors to provide temporary immunity for infected patients and the accelerated development and testing of new Ebola vaccines and diagnostics,” Lumpkin said.
“These efforts complement existing development at the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency,” he continued. “With more than 50 years of experience successfully developing technology to achieve seemingly impossible goals, DARPA is uniquely positioned to fulfill a critical role within the whole of government response, to contain and eliminate the Ebola outbreak.”
“Because DARPA's approaches to these research and developments diverge from conventional avenues,” Lumpkin said, “they have a real potential to produce game-changing advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Ebola.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)