As families sit around their Thanksgiving tables today, there will be a few empty seats left behind by a group of courageous U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers who volunteered for duty in West Africa. Their mission is to offer help, healing, and hope to the people of the region and, in turn, protect our safety and security as well.
"I knew from the beginning that the mission duration would likely go through the holiday seasons and I would miss the holidays with my family and friends," Commander Martin Smith, a logistics chief from Arizona serving in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, wrote about his experience. "[But] I realized that if the world sat by and did nothing the issue would only continue to grow ... and therefore possibly affect my Nation and Family."
The best way to protect Americans here at home is to stop Ebola abroad.
As Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, I am so grateful this Thanksgiving for Commander Smith's service and the service of all 70 of our Commissioned Corps officers who are away from their families so that they can fight this epidemic at its source.
We all have another reason to be thankful -- two, in fact. Their names are Stanley Sayonkon and Mark Tate. Stanley and Mark are Liberian healthcare workers on the front lines of saving lives and offering hope.
During their service to others, both Stanley and Mark were diagnosed with Ebola. So they came to our Monrovian Medical Unit -- a 25-bed, state-of-the-art hospital that is providing care to healthcare workers who may be infected with the Ebola virus. I'm happy to report that earlier this week, both were discharged because they were Ebola-free and had clean bills of health.
This part of the mission is critically important, because healthcare workers are at higher risk of infection. It is really important that we provide them with quality care, first and foremost because they offer hope and healing to patients throughout the region, and secondly because we want to make sure that healthcare workers from throughout world know there is a resource for them if they get sick so that they will continue to lend their hand.
So this Thanksgiving we are thankful for all the volunteers and the people of West Africa who have chosen to put their own lives on hold in order to provide care for others.
And we give thanks to Stanley and Mark, brave healthcare workers who are Ebola-free, and to our Commissioned Corps officers who treated them.
That is giving that is truly worthy of our thanks.