As the number of West Africans who have become infected with Ebola drops dramatically, members of the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Red Bull Infantry Division are learning that they will not be going to Liberia to support the U.S. military's mission there.
Col. Kevin Olson, Guard spokesman, said Saturday night that the division — which was going to Liberia in support of Operation United Assistance — is no longer required.
"The Rosemount-based 34th Red Bull Infantry Division was one of the units identified to deploy, and has informed the nearly 300 soldiers preparing for this mission that they will not be required to support the effort to contain the Ebola virus disease in West Africa," Olson said in a statement.
Last November, the Guard announced that nearly 700 members of the 34th Red Bull would be deployed to Liberia for a six-month period. They were expected to arrive in April and depart in late fall. That mission was later reduced to nearly 300 soldiers.
The U.S. military has sent about 3,000 troops to West Africa to build treatment centers. But the outbreak started to subside even before the first U.S. centers were completed. The epidemic has killed at least 8,675 people.
The Minnesota mission was intended to support humanitarian relief and not direct treatment of Ebola patients. The Red Bulls had been assigned to assume command from the 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Ky. The 101st has been overseeing construction of the treatment centers, which the 34th was to take over.
The Minnesota Guard members had undergone their initial training, which included making sure they had the proper immunization, were cleared medically and that their paperwork was in order, Olson said. If the mission had gone through, the Minnesota soldiers would have gone through extensive training at Camp Ripley near Little Falls and at Fort Hood, Texas.
Asked if there was perhaps some relief that the Liberia mission had been canceled, Olson responded: "Our soldiers stand ready to answer the call of our state and our nation. In the past, we've come forward for both peacekeeping and war fighting."
To show how things have changed in West Africa, Sierra Leone plans to reopen schools in March, following Guinea, which opened them last week. Liberia is set to reopen schools on Feb. 2.
Staff writer Mark Brunswick and the Associated Press contributed to this report.