Mil Med 2016 11;181(11):e1675-e1684
1st Area Medical Laboratory Building 5116, Bel Air Street, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD 21005.
Background: The U.S. Army 1 Area Medical Laboratory (1 AML) is currently the only deployable medical CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives) laboratory in the Army's Forces Command. In support of the United States Agency for International Development Ebola response, the U.S. military initiated Operation United Assistance (OUA), and deployed approximately 2,500 service members to support the Government of Liberia's Ebola control efforts. Due to its unique molecular diagnostic and expeditionary capabilities, the 1 AML was ordered to deploy in October of 2014 in support of OUA via establishment of Ebola testing laboratories. To meet the unique mission requirements of OUA, the unit was re-organized to operate in a split-based configuration and sustain four separate Ebola testing laboratories.
Methods: This article is a review of the 1 AML's OUA participation in a split-based configuration. Topics highlighted include pre-deployment planning/training, operational/logistical considerations in fielding/withdrawing laboratories, laboratory testing results, disease and non-battle injuries, and lessons learned.
Findings: Fielding the 1 AML in a split-based configuration required careful pre-deployment planning, additional training, optimal use of personnel, and the acquisition of additional laboratory equipment. Challenges in establishing and sustaining remote laboratories in Liberia included: difficulties in transportation of equipment due to poor road infrastructure, heavy equipment unloading, and equipment damage during transit. Between November 26, 2014 and February 18, 2015 the four 1 AML labs successfully tested blood samples from patients and oral swabs collected by burial teams in rural Liberia. The most significant equipment malfunction during laboratory operations was generators powering the labs, with the same problem impacting headquarters. Generator failures delayed laboratory operations/result reporting, and put temperature sensitive reagents at risk. None of the 22 1 AML soldiers (at remote labs or headquarters) had an Ebola exposure, none were infected with malaria or other tropical diseases, and none required evacuation from the time deployed to remote sites. The primary medical condition encountered was acute gastroenteritis, and within the first week of arrival to Liberia, 19 (86%) soldiers were affected.
Discussion/impact/recommendations: With proper planning and training, the 1 AML can successfully conduct split-based operations in an outbreak setting, and this capability can be utilized in future operations. The performance of the 1 AML during the current Ebola outbreak highlights the value of this asset, and the need to continue its evolution to support U.S. military operations.