Cyberwarrior home from Liberia, Ebola free

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer
  • 182nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A cyber transport systems specialist with Peoria's 264th Combat Communications Squadron returned home in November from the fight against the Ebola epidemic in Africa. There, he and his unit led the way in building up communications for hospital training centers as part of Operation United Assistance.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Springsteen, a Chicago suburb native, was augmenting the Joint Communications Support Element at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., when he was handpicked for deployment to Liberia.

Springsteen said he knew it was going to be an interesting assignment because it was the first time he had deployed with a JCSE command and control core unit with such short notice.

"We basically had a week to get everything up and running before we had to get everything out. Compared to the last mission they had, they knew about it four months in advance," he said.

Springsteen saw his boots on the ground Oct. 15 in Monrovia, Liberia, building from scratch the command and control location for 600 joint-force personnel at the Armed Forces of Liberia's Barclay Training Center.

"Basically, I set up all the servers that these guys use to pull the services - their email, the databases, everything that they use to do their job - that's what we set up down there," Springsteen said. "We cable everything up, power everything up. We basically ensure that they have an office space to work at, that they see nothing different from when they work at home than when they work at a forward-deployed location."

Springsteen's home station commander at the 264th, Lt. Col. Ronald Crouch, was very proud of his troop answering the call to assist in the global crisis.

"Tech. Sgt. Springsteen is your ideal Airman from a commander's perspective," said Crouch. "He's a self-starter, mission focused and technically proficient with a thirst for knowledge while constantly challenging himself to improve his skillset. He stands out because he is good at what he does." 

However, unlike a typical deployment, Springsteen found himself working in the heart of a viral outbreak that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say has killed more than 3,600 people in Liberia.

Did he find the situation intimidating? Yes. Was he fazed? Hardly.

"I knew there wasn't going to be many concerns, but when you mention Ebola and people don't know, people tend to panic," Springsteen said. "And going to Liberia where you can handle getting shot at but then you have this Ebola thing where you have no idea. I mean, you know you're safe, but you still have no idea."

Springsteen's superior never doubted his ability to make a difference.

"Tech. Sgt. Springsteen is a deployment warrior, mission-hacker who relates to the big picture and doesn't get overly excited when things don't go perfectly," Crouch said.

While Springsteen's unit did not expect to be in contact with the local population, the risk of exposure in the joint-force environment was a stressor.  Despite multi-service barriers and technological setbacks, they were ultimately successful.

After a month in Africa, Springsteen's unit was relieved by the Army's 101st Airborne Division and 35th Signal Brigade, and he was on his way back to the States. The final stop between him and home was a 21-day quarantine in the transition center at Langley Air Force Base, Va., beginning on Nov. 14 - a precaution for all returning service members to ensure the virus was not carried into the United States.

Springsteen said he found quarantine to be actually very nice.

"We were set up in little bungalows, eight persons per bungalow. We got three hot meals a day," he said.

Springsteen and his roommates passed the time by making use of the facility's gym equipment, entertainment and a computer lab to keep current on training and work. During the illusion of normality, they were constantly tested for symptoms of Ebola.

"They whole time before, the whole time during my deployment and the whole time during quarantine you get your temperature taken twice a day, and if there's a variance of .5 degrees above 98.6 (F) then they'll hold you," Springsteen said. "So if you've not got a temperature and nothing's happened for 21 days, then they know you're Ebola free for a fact."

Springsteen and his roommates were released from quarantine Dec. 4, just in time to come home for the holidays. He took some leave before packing his bags again and transferring from MacDill AFB to continue his work at United States Pacific Command in Honolulu, where there are already forward missions to the Asia-Pacific region waiting for him.