Operation United Assistance
Primary Operating Location: Monrovia, Liberia
Secondary Operating Location/s: Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport, Dakar, Senegal (Intermediate Staging Base); Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal; Camp Darby, Italy
– Joint Forces Command – United Assistance
– U/I Task Force, Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division
– Task Force Iron Knight, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (-)
– U/I Elements, 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment
– U/I Elements, 36th Engineer Brigade
– U/I Elements, 4th Engineer Battalion
– U/I Elements, 15th Engineer Battalion
– U/I Military Police Company, 759th Military Police Battalion
– U/I Elements, 101st Sustainment Brigade
– Task Force Eagle Medic, 86th Combat Support Hospital, 44th Medical Brigade
– U/I Elements, 20th Support Command (CBRNE)
– U/I Elements, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133
– U/I Elements, US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
– U/I Elements, US Naval Medical Research Center
– Joint Operations Center (Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport)
– U/I Elements, 123rd Contingency Response Group, 123rd Airlift Wing, Kentucky Air National Guard
Start Date: 16 September 2014
End Date: Ongoing
Summary: Operation United Assistance is the nickname for the US military component of whole-of-government United States response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The US Agency for International Development was the lead agency for the effort. Washington’s focus was on helping to contain the disease in Liberia, where the virus had already killed thousands at the time the mission was launched.
Operation United Assistance involved the deployment of a task force to Liberia to support the construction of Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) and the delivery of humanitarian aid and other supplies. In addition, the US military would establish an intermediate staging base (ISB) at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal to help assist in the delivery of personnel and materiel. The United Assistance leadership would also either coordinate or assume operational control of military medical professionals already in the region. For instance, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infection Diseases (USAMRIID) had already been helping test blood samples for the illness since July 2014, according to an official press release. The Naval Medical Research Center also deployed personnel to perform these badly needed tests in makeshift laboratories.
US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was also designated as the lead for the military component and would coordinate efforts from its facilities in Europe, specifically Camp Darby in Italy, the home of US Army Africa / Southern Europe Task Force. Air bases in the region were also involved in the effort. In addition, photographic evidence showed Lajes Airfield in the Azores had been used as a stopover point for specialized air ambulance flights contracted by the US Department of State to fly sickened American citizens back to the United States for treatment. The photo was later taken down for unknown reasons.
As of 3 October 2014, approximately eighteen hundred US troops were expected to deploy to the region in total. This was to ultimately include elements of the 101st Airborne Division Headquarters, the 101st Sustainment Brigade, the 44th Medical Brigade (to include personnel from the 86th Combat Support Hospital), 4th Engineer Battalion, and an unspecified military police company from the 759th Military Police Battalion. Ten soldiers from the 20th Support Command (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosives) were also expected to join the task force, which was eventually designated the Joint Forces Command – United Assistance.
Eventually, the total number of US military personnel expected to arrive throughout West Africa had expanded to approximately 4,000. This included additional US Army engineers and the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group, the latter of which would man the ISB in Senegal. Sailors from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, attached to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa in Djibouti, were among the first personnel to arrive in support of the mission. Most notably, however, was the decision to deploy elements of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response on 16 October 2014.
A task force of approximately one hundred Marines brought four MV-22B Ospreys tilt-rotors and two KC-130J Hercules transports. The aircraft would assist in moving individuals and equipment from the American hub at Roberts International Airport in Liberia’s capital Monrovia to more remote areas where ETUs were to be constructed. The Pentagon expected that the Marines’ deployment would be temporary and that they would eventually be replaced by a US Army aviation unit.
On 16 October 2014, President Barack Obama also signed an executive order allowing the Secretary of Defense to call up reserve component forces to support Operation United Assistance, if necessary. On top of that, the order also authorized the Secretary of Homeland Defense to activate similar elements of the Coast Guard if it was “not operating as a service in the Navy” at the time.
On 12 November 2014, Major General Gary Volesky announced that JFC-UA would only end up having approximately 3,000 personnel in total. “We will top out in the middle of December just short of 3,000, and that’s the most we’ll bring in the country,” said General Volesky, who was also commander of the 101st Airborne Division at the time. “When the original request for forces was created, it was larger than that,” Volesky added, “but what we found working with USAID and the government of Liberia was there’s a lot of capacity here that we didn’t know about before.”
Four days later, the Department of the Army released a notice identifying US Army National Guard and US Army Reserve Units earmarked for deployment in support of Operation United Assistance in the spring of 2015. The new forces would provide a second rotation for the mission, allowing currently deployed units to return home. National Guard units included: the 34th Infantry Division Headquarters, Minnesota Army National Guard; the 16th Engineer Brigade Headquarters, Ohio Army National Guard; a linguist detachment from the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, California Army National Guard; the 272nd Engineer Company (Vertical Construction), Texas Army National Guard; the 294th Medical Company (Area Support), Iowa Army National Guard; and elements of the 891st Engineer Battalion, Kansas Army National Guard. US Army Reserve units included: elements of the 96th Sustainment Brigade; elements of the 313th Transportation Battalion (Movement Control); the 324th Engineer Detachment (Fire Fighting); elements of the 324th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary); the 329th Engineer Detachment (Survey and Design); 387th Medical Company (Logistics); elements of the 398th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion; the 452nd Medical Detachment (Preventative Medicine); the 996th Engineer Company (Horizontal Construction); and Company B, 412th Civil Affairs Battalion.