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Special Forces Soldiers Make Masks for Health Care Workers

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Soldiers assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group's Group Support Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, are manufacturing personal protective equipment for routine care and protection against COVID-19.

The soldiers created prototypes for reusable respirator masks, 3D-printed face shields, and surgical masks for Madigan Army Medical Center and its regional partners.

A soldier wearing gloves and a face mask operates a sewing machine.
Mask Maker
A parachute rigger with the 1st Special Forces Group’s Group Support Battalion sews surgical masks for medical patients at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., March 31, 2020.
Photo By: Army photo by Sgt. Joe Parrish
VIRIN: 200331-A-OQ404-001C

The battalion's parachute riggers repurposed their sewing machines — typically used to repair parachutes — to assemble surgical masks.

"The Aerial Delivery Platoon will be able to produce 200 [masks] per day, initially, with only five, lightweight sewing machines," said Army Lt. Col. Christopher S. Jones, the battalion's commander.

Soldiers will continue to refine the process of producing the masks and improving them following feedback from medical employees.

"We'll get better by week's end and be able to produce 1,000 to 1,500 during a normal work week," Jones said.

The masks will immediately benefit personnel identified by medical professionals, said Army Col. Rodd E. Marcum, the 1st Special Forces Group surgeon.

Soldiers wearing gloves and face masks prepare surgical masks for sewing.
Group Work
Parachute riggers with the 1st Special Forces Group’s Group Support Battalion prepare surgical masks for medical patients at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., March 31, 2020.
Photo By: Army photo by Sgt. Joe Parrish
VIRIN: 200401-A-QO404-001C

"The most likely application [for the masks] will be to have a symptomatic patient — one with a cough, sneezing, shortness of breath — wear the mask in order to reduce the amount of respiratory droplets contaminating the environment, helping reduce the likelihood that ill people expose others," Marcum said.

In this period of adjustment for many people, he said, it is important to remember that the priorities are protecting the force and their families by following medical guidelines.

"Nothing is more important as we work through this unexpected challenge than following the recommendations of public health professionals. Physical or social distancing is critical in reducing the chain of transmission," Marcum said.

A soldier places bags of masks on a hardened container as medical personnel look on.
Medical Delivery
A soldier with the 1st Special Forces Group’s Group Support Battalion delivers 300 surgical masks to the Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., April 2, 2020. The unit’s soldiers adapted their equipment to begin production of personal protective equipment.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Hohman
VIRIN: 200402-A-WQ889-001

Jones said he looks forward to witnessing the impact of his soldiers' hard work on the nation as other forces join the battle against this disease.

"I believe this is a phenomenal effort to help our health care professionals and fellow Americans," he said. "We're collaborating with [Army Special Operations Forces] and conventional forces across the Army to make a difference. The effort in and of itself is a worthwhile exercise in how to innovate to provide solutions, especially as the U.S. military has the best capability in the world."

Editor's Note: At the time of publication, the unit had provided 300 surgical masks to Madigan Army Medical Center.

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