There were no hugs or handshakes just in case Ebola germs lurked, but Rep. Steven Palazzo found 15 Navy Seabees from Mississippi in “good spirits” Friday as they waited out a 21-day isolation period at Virginia’s Langley Air Force Base after a seven-week stint building treatment facilities in disease-ravaged Liberia.
“Everybody had a smile on his face,” Palazzo said.
The Seabees “were nowhere near any of the Ebola victims or the medical personnel that were treating them” while working in Monrovia and even had “limited involvement” with Liberians in the community who had been found free of the disease, he said.
Palazzo said he made the four-hour trip from Washington to ensure they’re in satisfactory quarters. The Mississippi sailors are among 80 to 90 troops in a holding pattern at the joint base near Virginia Beach, Va.
While 21 days can seem to take forever, Palazzo said, the sailors aren’t complaining about their lengthy isolation to cover the possible incubation period of the deadly virus.
“The last thing they want to do is to be a risk, returning back to their units and possibly have an interaction that could affect their fellow service members,” he said.
The only grumble he heard was about the food, Palazzo said. The congressman’s office has arranged to deliver gumbo from Mary Mahoney’s, a Gulf Coast restaurant, before Thanksgiving.
In Liberia, the Seabees spent most of their time conducting surveys for placement of building foundations. But the sailors told him that when local contractors sought help, they replied, “Give us the tools, and we’ll build anything you want.”
He said the sailors from Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 133 in Gulfport are living in makeshift quarters in a training area isolated from Langley’s main Air Force facilities, but they’re not fenced in.
“It’s absolutely an honor system,” he said.
The sailors have access to a gym and a basketball hoop.
“Overall, their morale seemed very high,” the congressman said. “Of course, like anybody, they’re ready to get back to their mission, back to duty, back to seeing their families.”
The unit, currently stationed at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, was deployed to Liberia on Sept. 23 and arrived at the base, now known as Joint Base Langley-Eustice, on Nov. 13.
“They would do it again,” Palazzo said. “They love serving their country.”