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Airmen Return to Louisville from Ebola Relief Efforts in West Africa

A dozen National Guard Airmen returned to Louisville from Senegal on Thursday evening after assisting with the international effort to battle Ebola.

Members of the 123rd Contingency Response Group established a processing cargo hub in Dakar, Senegal, in support of Operation United Assistance.

Technical Sgt. Jarrod Blanford is an air transporter.  In eight-year career with the National Guard, he has completed missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic and Haiti in 2010 to assist with earthquake relief efforts.

He said they had one mission while in Senegal.

"Show up to work and just move cargo. That's our only mission … to get medical supplies, food, water, supplies to build medical facilities, blood, anything we could into the Ebola-stricken areas through airlift," Blanford said.

Blanford said he had no concern about contracting the Ebola virus while in West Africa. The group was about 800 miles away from Liberia, where the disease is most prevalent.

"The World Health Organization, the Air Force surgeon general all declared Senegal an Ebola-free zone. Honestly, we had no issues, no fears. We were really just glad to be helping those areas that were stricken but they were obviously in pretty bad shape," he said.

Blanford said very often they are tasked with contingency missions related to wartime, but this time they were involved in a humanitarian mission.

"Health pandemics and epidemics are catered right to our skill set, so something like this is perfect for our unit. The humanitarian side of it, we of course love because we get to try to help our fellow man anywhere on planet earth and I like to think we made a difference this trip," Blanford said.

Master Sgt. Duane Wariner was welcomed back to Louisville by his wife Amber and their three children, Kylie, 11, Alexis, 8, and Liam, 2.

He said the mission was far-reaching.

"We had the chance to work with the Army, the Marines, the Navy and [the Defense Logistics Agency] and a lot of their civilian agencies and the World Health Organization. It was good to see how the whole process worked other than just the Air Force side of it," Wariner said.

The Guardsmen are not required to perform a 21-day quarantine, but they will undergo symptom monitoring as a precaution.

In all, 80 airmen will return this week. More members are expected to return this weekend.