The C-17 crew headed to the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa earlier this month would only be on the ground for a few hours.

Still, the six-member team had plenty of questions for leadership, said command pilot Capt. C.J. Tetrick. Would they interact with anyone exposed to the virus that so far has claimed more than 4,500 lives? Did they need to talk to public health officials before they left? Take along clean-up kits? What if one of their own came down with Ebola-like symptoms?

"We did talk to public health. We did take bleach and [decontamination] kits, just in case," Tetrick said.

The crew had no interaction with locals; one U.S. service member in Liberia boarded the C-17 while they were on the ground. Tents on the airfield were designated for anyone who might show signs of the virulent virus.

"I felt very safe," Tetrick said.

And at the end of the mission, there was a sense among the crew that they'd taken part in "something bigger than ourselves," the pilot said. "We were very proud."

Tetrick was one of three C-17 pilots from Joint Base Charleston who shared their recent experiences in West Africa during a press conference Thursday. They spoke on the flight line against a backdrop of massive cargo planes that have hauled everything from food and water to vehicles and a field hospital to the affected region.

Some 540 troops and Pentagon civilians have arrived there so far. They include airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard who stood up a vital cargo hub that will channel humanitarian aid across the region and a rapid-response team of air and ground mobility specialists who will facilitate the flow of aid workers and supplies. Another group of airmen from Joint Base Langley-Eusis in Virginia left last month to set up a mobile hospital to treat healthcare workers who may fall ill to the virus.

As many as 4,000 may deploy to West Africa in the fight against the deadliest outbreak of the disease in history, the Pentagon has said.

The event at the base in Charleston came a day after news that a second Dallas nurse who treated the only U.S. patient to die from Ebola was diagnosed with the disease — and flew on a commercial airliner after showing symptoms, potentially spreading the virus to dozens of others. An unidentified service member at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth is among those who may have been exposed, a Texas school district official said Thursday. The troop is in voluntary quarantine.

Tetrick and Capts. David Blankenstein and Chance Harridge, who also delivered people and supplies to Liberia, all conceded to feeling initial concern about the airlift missions.

"Sometimes people think we're transporting sick people around," said Tetrick, a 2009 Air Force Academy graduate. "We're not allowed to transport Ebola patients. Hopefully, we can make people feel better."

Tetrick's crew carried 63,000 pounds of cargo to Monrovia, Liberia's capital city, including four-wheel drive vehicles, generators, light poles, the mobile command center and other equipment. They also brought 12 members of the 621st Contingency Response Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

The single military member who came onboard the C-17 while they unloaded in Liberia described precautions taken by troops on the ground.

"No one shakes hands. Everyone stays in their own bubble. They are all set up in a sterilized hotel. Their temperature is taken before coming on the airfield. You can't even get on the airfield without your temperature being taken," Tetrick said.

Harridge said once he and his crew understood how the virus spreads — it can only be transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person — their concerns were allayed.

Excitement set in.

"It's something different. We've been going to Afghanistan and Iraq for the last decade. This was a different flavor than what we're used to," Harridge said. "It was an opportunity to help people. The crew was pretty excited about it."

Harridge's team transported two forklifts, five pallets of food and water and six soldiers.

"We were on the ground an hour," he said. "We never shut down the engine."

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