173rd Fighter Wing creates masks in response to COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt.Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

As the COVID-19 pandemic makes inroads in the United States military officials at the highest levels adopted new Centers for Disease Control guidance to require military members to wear masks when required to work inside a six-foot radius of others.

The Department of Defense sent this requirement to bases including, Kingsley Field, April 6, with the expectation that it would be fully adopted within eight days.

Thanks to some quick thinking on the part of senior leadership Airmen at Kingsley Field all have masks available to them one day later. An unconventional approach coupled with a willingness to pitch in and help saw more than 615 masks created from whole cloth—not to mention old ABUs, flight suits and a few worn out OCPs as well.

“It’s extremely impressive how Team Kingsley came together to get this done,” said Col. Brad Orgeron, the 173rd Fighter Wing vice commander. He went on to describe the process of finding a design that met CDC requirements, namely controlling spray through the fabric, which was also feasible for Airmen to construct quickly with material on-hand.

“Everybody pitched in to help,” said Lt. Col. Micah Lambert, the 173rd Maintenance Group commander. “We did an all-call on the app and Col. Edwards sent out an email saying ‘we’re gonna produce these tomorrow,’ and we went after it, and every shop you walked around folks were doing these “arts and crafts” projects—making these 10x6 squares of ABU material or felt.”

The maintenance conference room table was stacked with old ABUs as Airmen worked to break them down into cloth squares suitable for sewing into a mask. Downstairs the same thing was happening as a number of crew chiefs worked with razor blades to cut fabric squares.

Across the tarmac in the Aircrew Flight Equipment office the sound of sewing machines marked the next phase of construction where the squares were sewn together to form the protective mouth and nose cover.

“I’ve done about 100 so far,” said Tech. Sgt. Thomas Howard, an AFE technician, shortly after 11 a.m. between setting down a sewn piece and grabbing two more pieces of cloth.

Several reasons made is necessary for the base to undertake this project, the supply system is overwhelmed with mask requests as is the civilian supply chain, making that a dead-end.

Although the base has some mask reserves, these need to be preserved for medical staff as well as community support as the Oregon Air National Guard remains ready to respond to the state’s call should the crisis worsen.

Finally, the wing’s mission is to provide trained air superiority pilots to the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard and the sooner these masks are ready the sooner the base returns  that core mission.

“It’s going to be great tomorrow to hear the sound of jets flying in the Klamath Basin tomorrow as we get back to flying—our day-to-day business,” said Orgeron.