FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --
Team Fairchild’s Air Force Repair Enhancement Program flight and Aircrew Flight Equipment unit have worked to create hundreds of protective facemasks for Fairchild Airmen to wear amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This effort comes after the secretary of defense released a policy stating that all individuals, including military personnel, civilian employees, family members and contractors on Department of Defense property, installations and facilities, must wear cloth face coverings where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
“When the secretary of defense declared everyone to wear a mask on the installation, we got the call asking if we could support making the masks,” said Capt. Jennifer Carlson, 92nd Operation Support Squadron AFE flight commander. “Our mission right now is to make the masks and distribute them to those who are unable to perform their duties within physical distancing guidelines.”
AFE Airmen’s normal duties include managing the inspection, maintenance and adjustments of every piece of safety and flight equipment for all airframes with a “zero mistake” standard, in order to prevent equipment failures and accidents from happening. Even though the task of making protective facemasks is well outside the AFE unit’s expertise, their broad skill set, technical training and flexibility enables them to answer the call and respond with high success and efficiency.
“AFE Airmen have to be able to work on any airframe, so they have to become proficient in a variety of skills people don’t know about, such as sewing,” Carlson said. “With these skills on-hand and six industrial sewing machines in the unit, we were asked to create the masks, and are doing so with mass production in a short amount of time.”
AFE was able to produce 250 masks within the first two days of receiving the task, and have produced over 650 more for Airmen on the installation to wear.
“Our goal is to keep people safe and bust out masks as quickly as we can,” Carlson said. “We’ve been doing this all week. Cutting all the fabric down to size, gathering filters, having people pin those together, sewing them together, adding parachute cord to use as adjustable straps for the user to wrap around their head, it has been quite the assembly line here.”
Along with AFE, the 92nd Maintenance Group AFREP flight also contributed to making masks by using their 3-D printer to generate reusable masks while conserving resources in the process.
“The purpose of the mask is to be able to protect our Airmen who have to come in contact with other people to do their job, and conserve resources by creating a reusable mask with a replaceable filter,” said Master Sgt. Jeremy Blackwell, 92nd MXG AFREP manager. “The filter can be anything from a surgical mask to a paper towel cut into six pieces, giving the mask six uses versus just one.”
The basis of the AFREP program is to save money and they do so by locating aged aircraft equipment for revitalization, and modernizing current fabrications to better serve Airmen and their missions. AFREP Airmen will sometimes use a 3-D printer to regenerate certain aircraft parts, which would normally cost thousands of dollars to replace, at the cost of just pennies for plastic.
“We are printing these masks to fill a need,” Blackwell said. “Our goal right now is to produce 14 masks a day, and we have 20 masks made right now. Unfortunately, we are limited on the space in the 3-D printer and the number of masks we can produce, but we are still making sure the Airmen who can’t physically distance themselves are able to protect themselves. ”
With this technology, AFREP is now able to incorporate its money-saving revitalization methods for the protection of Fairchild’s Airmen and families.
“It is great to see everyone come together regardless of skill-level to come up with a design, do so quickly, make most of what we have and get the job done,” Carlson said. “Being able to get those masks out quickly, not only to meet the secretary of defense’s intent, but also to keep people from spreading or contracting the virus is huge for the unit, the base and the community.”
Force Health Protection is currently one of Fairchild Air Force Base’s top priorities; with the support of AFREP, AFE and its Airmen, Fairchild is able to take proactive steps toward preventing the potential spread of respiratory illnesses, like the flu or COVID-19, amongst its Airmen, families and community.