Patriot Profiles: ‘I’m grateful I had an opportunity to give back to Liberia’

Students in the Ebola Treatment Unit Course diagnose a potential patient for symptoms of the Ebola virus during training at the National Police Training Academy in Monrovia, Liberia, in November 2014. Photo by Staff Sgt. V. Michelle Woods.

This column presents “Patriot Profiles” to provide readers insight into the lives of our country’s heroes.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

The words of John F. Kennedy ring true as the United States sends up to 4,000 men and women in uniform to help free Ebola-stricken nations. According to the World Health Organization, “The current outbreak in West Africa (first cases notified in March 2014), is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976. There have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined.”

Liberia, 2014. Lt. Prince Kwaku Tailey. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy

For U.S. Navy Lt. Prince Kwaku Tailey, born and raised in Liberia, the return to his homeland to join the fight was an emotional one. The challenge for him and other military members was not just the disease. As WHO describes it: “The most severely affected countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, have very weak health systems, lacking human and infrastructural resources, having only recently emerged from long periods of conflict and instability … Community engagement is the key to successfully controlling outbreaks.”

Tailey supports the U.S. Department of Defense’s Ebola Training Team and is responsible for coordinating movement for Mobile Training Teams. “Any logistical issues they run into — we make sure all of that happens. We become the background force, so the training teams can carry on their missions.”

Tailey leads a 23-member Navy team, part of Task Force Eagle Medic that supports the Ebola Training Team.

The team’s trainers were taught by WHO (concentrated in Monrovia) to be flexible in the field. During the training, Tailey, as operations officer, sat in with a group of Ebola survivors they referred to as “expert patients.”

“There are about seven people on the panel, and each of them gave their experiences from before they got infected, when they got infected and the training and treatment they received in the Ebola Treatment Unit. It was very interesting and heartbreaking at the same time.

“There was one lady — it started with her kid,” he continued in his West African accent. “She and her husband took him to the hospital — the ETU. In that process, her husband got infected as well. The lady contracted the disease taking care of her son and husband … She lost her son first and then her husband … She survived the treatment through the ETU.

“Every one of those individuals that gave their story said great things about providers and the nurses that catered to them during their time in the ETU,” he continued. “Our contributions did a lot because we exposed (the populace) to what they needed to know to take care of themselves and their family members. Almost all the remote areas are now covered as far as training goes, for running ETUs and all of that.”

Growing up in Liberia, Tailey said, he “was not privy to a lot of things.” He joined the Marine Corps in 1998 and served 10 years, reaching staff sergeant, E-6. His longtime interest in health care steered him towards the Navy Medical Service Corps. In 2008, he was accepted into the Sailor Procurement Program, a way enlisted Marines and sailors can become officers. Running with military educational opportunities, he also earned a master’s degree in health care administration from Baylor University in 2010. As a health care administrator, Tailey supports all aspects of managing a naval medical facility.

An affinity for health care came from Tailey’s granddad, a registered nurse. These footsteps he’s followed have taken him to far-off places and back.

In 2011, Tailey deployed to Afghanistan, as a combat adviser during Operation Enduring Freedom. “I advised the budget director to the surgeon general for the Afghan National Police. They had their own medical police hospital, so we trained their hospital staff how to run it. Through our efforts, the police and Army hospitals have been fully operating throughout Afghanistan. You can see we’re not in combat missions anymore. Everything is now headed by the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.”

Tailey feels fortunate to be part of health care machinery — working with a diverse group of people. “I’m grateful I had an opportunity to come and give back to Liberia. To see the great progress that has happened since I’ve been here is tremendous.”

He was able to sit through high-level meetings and see the synchronization between DoD and the U.S. Agency for International Development (the lead) and all the other components. “It was awesome to see how these different agencies can come together and operate — set an example for future missions.”

At the end of a hard day, it’s time to alleviate stress. “One of things I look forward to every evening is calling my wife back in the States — getting to talk to her and asking her how her day went and how the kids are doing at school.

“It’s easier for the military member to leave, but the folks we leave behind — the wives, husbands and significant others — they are the ones that have to do everything. I just want to take my hat off to them, because they are actually the heroes and do the hard work compared to what we do.”

Home-based at Naval Hospital Pensacola, Fla., Tailey is assistant department head for materials management. “Everything they use in the hospital has to come through my department, so we order the supplies and get the contracts in place for doctors and nurses. The hospital wouldn’t operate without materials management.

“Once I’m retired, my plan is to work for the State Department in some capacity. I hope I’ve done great things as a military member and that my experiences can impact young sailors and anybody I encounter, based on everything I’ve gained.”

“Giving them my background, (I) hope it will be an inspiration for them to do greater and better things, because I definitely came from nowhere to where I am at today.”

With Lt. Prince Kwaku Tailey, health care starts in the heart and reaches out with a hand — May the people of Liberia find some comfort here.


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