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Feature Stories

NEWS | July 21, 2020

Homemade masks help protect troops

By Story by Sgt. 1st Class Gary Witte 207th Regional Support Group

When the order came in April to start wearing masks because of the pandemic, many troops in Iraq improvised. They created impromptu protective equipment with T-shirts, scarves and neck gaiters wrapped around their faces.

Then assistance arrived through the mail for troops at Al Asad Air Base.

The 248th Medical Company (Area Support), which provides care for personnel stationed there, was in a unique position to see the problem.

The Georgia National Guard unit took precautions and prepared for the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in theatre, yet the number of surgical masks they had were limited, not designed to be reused and were difficult to replace. Regardless, patients who visited the medical station all had to cover up.

“We wanted to provide for them,” U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Richard F. Jordan said. “They can’t get [surgical masks] as quickly.”

His wife Renee, who is a member of the unit’s Family Support Group, came up with a solution. She contacted various military wives groups, including Cindy’s Baking Angels, Jordan said. At her request, volunteers with the care package organization started making the masks by hand.

Jordan said he only expected about a couple dozen masks. Instead, about 2,000 showed up.

“I was blown away,” he said, noting service members would have to spend at least $10 to $15 to purchase an equivalent cloth mask. “That’s huge.”

The donations arrived in various shipments during May. They ranged from plain green to decorative red, white and blue. Some tied on by hand, others had elastic ear loops and many were made so users could put an additional filter inside.

“They’re all done differently,” Jordan said. “Friends and family made these colorful ones because they weren’t sure there was a standard.”

The unit commander, Maj. LaTonya Hicks, said she was impressed by the number of donations and complemented those who made them.

“It gave everyone a chance to have multiple masks,” she said. “It means someone was real considerate of the Soldiers overseas. They’re really thinking of the base as a whole.”

Department of Defense guidelines require cloth face coverings when personnel cannot maintain six feet of distancing in public or work areas in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The cloth masks sent to the base provide better protection than improvised scarves, she said.

The number of masks meant they were able to easily distribute them to civilians and service members throughout the base – not just patients and Soldiers in the unit, Hicks said. Likewise, they were washable and therefore reusable.

“There’s surely a need,” she said. “To think about our company and the deployed soldiers, that’s heroic.”