Personal protective equipment has been in high demand since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the 140th Maintenance Group, 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, Colorado, used their military knowledge and skills to fabricate a solution.
Shortly after the pandemic began, three members of the squadron’s fabrication shop, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Shane Sturgeon, fabrication supervisor, Master Sgt. Kenny Bell, metals technology supervisor, and Staff Sgt. Jaeson Fricke, metals technology technician, with the help of Master Sgt. Timothy Trollope, nondestructive testing Non-commissioned Officer-in-Charge, developed a process to make face masks, face shields, and pocket tools, used for tasks like opening doors and operating light switches without touching them, using personal equipment.
“We fabricated everything utilizing our own 3-D printers, and after a lot of brainstorming and product testing was completed, we had a solid plan to move forward with production of a modified version of the medical-grade ‘Montana Mask’,” Sturgeon said.
Each of the members worked from their home and communicated via pictures, videos, text messages, and phone calls.
“It’s pretty amazing that modern day technology is sufficient to complete a task without meeting in person,” Sturgeon said. “Especially in light of the material shortages where improvisation was required,watching the process develop from the very initial ideas, into the final product was remarkable.”
Once the team established the process, the primary goal was to make as many face masks as possible in the shortest amount of time, Sturgeon said.
When U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Marien, commander, 140th Maintenance Squadron, discovered what his Airmen were doing, he immediately began working to help legally purchase a 3-D printer for the fabrication shop and fund the materials to make more masks, shields, and pocket tools.
“Even before the 140th Wing equipment and materials were purchased, our members desired to help so much that they chose to continue making the masks from home to promote the safety and security of others in the community; they are highly considerate people,” Marien said.
Gov. Jared Polis ordered more than 150 Colorado Air National Guard members to assist with the COVID-19 response across Colorado by providing community testing and training state-wide and assisting the City and County of Denver to help shelter those experiencing homelessness. The Airmen have been using the PPE from the fabrication team so that they could, in turn, care for, and protect the community, Marien said.
“We are all proud to help during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sturgeon said. “Since we are all full-time employees, we miss out on some of the volunteer opportunities because we have such a heavy workload on the F-16s. Being able to utilize our minds, time and tools to assist others during the pandemic is something special.”