MN National Guard heading to Liberia in Ebola fight

Minnesota Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jennifer Noel at a press conference at the Rosemount National Guard Armory on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014 in Rosemount, Minn. This will be Sgt. Noel's second deployment. She went to Iraq for her first deployment in 2009. (Yi-Chin Lee / MPR News)

Updated: 2:30 p.m., Nov. 17  |  Posted: 10:11 p.m., Nov. 16

Nearly 700 Minnesota National Guard soldiers will head to Liberia in the spring to support U.S. efforts there to contain the deadly Ebola virus.

Guard members from the Rosemount-based 34th Red Bull Infantry Division will be in Liberia for roughly six months, starting in April.

The citizen-soldier unit will follow the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and other troops to the area of the outbreak in West Africa. They will be assigned to help the U.S. Agency for International Development, providing logistical support to U.S. military forces.

Guard members will not be providing direct care for Ebola patients and will be held for monitoring when they return to the U.S.

Read more on Ebola from MPR News

“My number one priority is protecting the safety and health of our soldiers,”Army Maj. Gen. Neal G. Loidolt, commanding general of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, told reporters Monday morning. The unit was notified of the mission on Friday.

While in Liberia, Red Bulls will be checked twice daily for any signs of  fever or illness that might indicate Ebola. In the “unlikely circumstance” a soldier contracts the virus while in Liberia, he will be quarantined, stabilized and transported out for treatment, he added.

Returning back to Minnesota, soldiers will follow the “controlled monitoring procedures in place at that time” Loidolt said. He didn’t provide details but said it would be a “21 day controlled observation program to ensure they are free from the virus.”

Gov. Mark Dayton said he’s grateful that the “best guard men and women” in the country are taking on the important humanitarian mission.

“We will go to every length humanly possible to assure that they’re protected when they are there,” Dayton said. “And that they come back and they’re protected and their families and everyone else are protected until they’re given a clean bill of health to return.”

Liberia has been hardest hit by the 2014 Ebola outbreak with nearly 7,000 cases and more than 2,800 deaths. Minnesota is home to one of the largest Liberian populations in the United States.

Here’s the full statement from the Minnesota National Guard:

Nearly 700 Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers from the Rosemount-based 34th Red Bull Infantry Division will be mobilized to support humanitarian relief in Liberia in Spring 2015.

The Soldiers will provide the command and control of U.S. military forces deployed as part of Operation United Assistance, the military effort supporting the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) response to the Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia.

“Our mission will be to coordinate all of the Department of Defense resources in Liberia to support USAID and the government of Liberia to contain the Ebola virus, and ultimately save lives,” said Army Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard.

The specific duties of the Minnesota National Guard Soldiers will be to synchronize the operations, logistics, personnel and resources of the U.S. military forces assigned to the area. The Red Bulls will not be responsible for treating Ebola patients.

“And importantly for the Liberian people,” Nash continued, “the Minnesota National Guard presence will provide confidence that something can and will be done to stop the spread of disease.”

U.S. Army Division Headquarters have been tasked to provide command and control for Operation United Assistance. Since November 2014, the Ft. Campbell, Kentucky-based 101st Airborne Division has led the first rotation of this humanitarian mission. The Citizen-Soldiers of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division are expected to depart Minnesota in March 2015 for pre-mobilization training before deploying to Monrovia, Liberia in April 2015 to assume command from the 101st Airborne Division.

All troops deploying to West Africa will receive specific medical training — developed in conjunction with U.S. Army Public Health Command — and utilize specialized personal protective equipment to ensure they are protected from exposure.

“Preserving the health of our Soldiers is the highest priority for this mission,” said Army Maj. Gen. Neal Loidolt, commanding general of the 34th Infantry Division. “Extra steps are being taken to protect the Soldiers’ health, including personnel protective equipment and educating the Soldiers about the diseases prevalent in the area.”

The “Red Bulls” are expected to be deployed in Liberia for approximately six months.

MPR News reporter Tim Nelson contributed to this report.