America has never been defined by fear. We are defined by courage and passion and hope and selflessness and sacrifice and a willingness to take on challenges when others can’t and others will not, and ordinary Americans who risk their own safety to help those in need, and who inspire, thereby, the example of others -- all in the constant pursuit of building a better world not just for ourselves but for people in every corner of the Earth.
-- President Obama, October 29, 2014
Captain Calvin Edwards is a father of four from Harrisburg, PA. On his 29th wedding anniversary, he left home for Liberia with a pillow and the copy of the New Testament he always carries on his deployments. But not before he bought his wife a dozen roses.
Dr. Dan Chertow is also an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, who took leave from his position at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to volunteer with Doctor Without Borders in Liberia, where he cared for more than 200 Ebola patients.
Katie Curren led a "disease detective" team to a village in Sierra Leone that was so remote, they had to take canoes to reach it. The chief who met them wore a Pittsburgh Steelers hat, and welcomed their help. She's completed her mission and is on her way home.
These are just a few of the extraordinary American health workers who are willingly and courageously serving on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. They signed up to leave their homes and their loved ones to head straight into the heart of the epidemic.
Today in the East Room of the White House, President Obama called on all of us to honor them for what they are: "American heroes" -- a "shining example of what America means to the world, of what is possible when America leads."
When disease or disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the world calls us. And the reason they call us is because of the men and women like the ones who are here today. They respond with skill and professionalism and courage and dedication. And it’s because of the determination and skill and dedication and patriotism of folks like this that I’m confident we will contain and ultimately snuff out this outbreak of Ebola -- because that’s what we do.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is understandably stirring concern at home. But, as the President said, what makes America exceptional is our refusal to hide from the challenges that frighten us most:
We don’t react to our fears, but instead, we respond with commonsense and skill and courage. That’s the best of our history -- not fear, not hysteria, not misinformation. We react clearly and firmly, even with others are losing their heads. That’s part of the reason why we’re effective. That’s part of the reason why people look to us. And because of the work that’s being done by folks like this and by folks who are right now, as we speak, in the three affected countries, we’re already seeing a difference.
Our U.S. military and health personnel have been instrumental in setting up supply lines, laying down the necessary transportation infrastructure for aid to get into countries that need it most, cutting the testing time for Ebola by days, doubling safe burial practices, and imbuing a stronger sense of confidence that this outbreak can and will be controlled and defeated.
Still., the problem has not been solved. There is still a severe and significant outbreak, and it will take time for countries to battle back. "We've got a long way to go," the President said. But thanks to American leadership, the mood is changing for the better. "That's what's happening because of American leadership, and it is not abstract: it is people who are willing to go there at significant sacrifice to make a difference. That’s American exceptionalism. That’s what we should be proud of. That’s who we are."
Watch his remarks:
We cannot erase the threat of Ebola until we stop the outbreak in West Africa. That is a fact that these health care workers understand, and the mission America is leading on the international stage. The truth is that we are likely to see possible cases outside of the affected countries -- whether or not we adopt a travel ban or a quarantine. That's the nature of diseases. But here's the good news:
We know how to treat this disease. And now that the West African nations of Senegal and Nigeria have been declared Ebola-free, we know that this disease can be contained and defeated if we stay vigilant and committed, and America continues to lead the fight. We’ve got hundreds of Americans from across the country -- nurses, doctors, public health workers, soldiers, engineers, mechanics -- who are putting themselves on the front lines of this fight. They represent citizenship, and patriotism, and public service at its best. They make huge sacrifices to protect this country that we love. And when they come home, they deserve to be treated properly. They deserve to be treated like the heroes that they are.
The kind of progress that will win the battle against Ebola is slow, it's steady, and it's defined by grace under pressure and courage in the face of fear. It will take the compassion and painstaking effort that these health care providers readily offer. "So I put those on notice who think that we should hide from these problems," the President said. "That's not who we are. That's not who I am. That's not who these folks are. This is America. We do things differently."
That's what I want to see from us -- the pride of a nation that always steps up and gets the job done. America has never been defined by fear. We are defined by courage and passion and hope and selflessness and sacrifice and a willingness to take on challenges when others can’t and others will not, and ordinary Americans who risk their own safety to help those in need, and who inspire, thereby, the example of others -- all in the constant pursuit of building a better world not just for ourselves but for people in every corner of the Earth.