MANKATO — Jerry Bohl has been a military planner in Iraq, a middle school teacher, a tank platoon leader and is now a Minnesota State University assistant professor.
The lieutenant colonel in the National Guard will likely take on yet another role this spring, as one of the several hundred Minnesota soldiers deployed to Liberia to help quell the Ebola crisis.
Bohl, an information operations officer, will help manage the division's communications strategy. Much of that role will probably include keeping the few thousand American soldiers in the region and their families back home up to date.
The deployment calls upon the command and control arm of the Rosemount-based 34th Red Bulls Infantry Division. The Mankato-based 2nd Battalion of the 135th Infantry Regiment is just that, infantry, and its soldiers are unlikely to be required for this mission.
Assuming he gets the order, Bohl said he’ll be one of the few Mankato-area soldiers deployed to Africa.
The National Guard's initial announcement, about a month ago, said nearly 700 soldiers would be deployed. Bohl said the final number will be less than half of that. They’ll be replacing a force of about 250 from the 101st Airborne Division, he said.
The soldiers will likely arrive in Africa around early April for a six-month deployment, he said.
The Red Bulls will not be treating Ebola patients.
Instead, they will be coordinating the Defense Department’s efforts to support nonprofits and the Liberian government.
For example, the Red Bulls will coordinate efforts by medics to train local health care workers and Army engineers to make sure the public has passable roads to access treatment.
There is some evidence that the military deployment has been successful.
Bohl said the number of new Ebola cases in Liberia has declined from a high of about 70 per day in late September, just before the U.S. mission began, to fewer than 10 cases a day now.
Even though they won't be on the front lines, the Minnesota soldiers will be taking precautions, Bohl said, including having their temperature taken twice a day. When they get back, the plan is to spend three weeks in quarantine, or, to use the military’s term, “controlled monitoring assessment.”
Though the mission is unusual, Bohl said he’s confident the unit’s training has it well prepared. That has included international exercises in Germany and Japan in recent years, as well as numerous events across the country.
The unit’s most recent deployment was to Iraq, in 2009 and 2010. Bohl was a military planner.
He took a winding path to his current role as the recruiting operations officer in MSU’s military science department. After a brief stint in business in the early '90s, Bohl went back to school to become a teacher.
He taught seventh grade in Janesville, Wisconsin, for eight years before accepting a job at MSU, in 2003.
Bohl views his job as a culmination of his experience as a teacher and at the National Guard, where he’s served since 1991. He is technically a federal employee, though he still teaches some classes at MSU and Gustavus Adolphus College.