Kaiserslautern, Germany —
In the U.S. Army, Soldiers use the term “cover” when talking about patrol caps or as a command while in formation. Ever since the advent of the Covid-19, however, “cover” has taken on a new meaning.
The Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum requiring individuals on Department of Defense property, installations and facilities to wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public and work areas.
As units across U.S. Army Europe have implemented the cloth face covering guidance within their formations, two organizations within the 21st Theater Sustainment Command are proving their ingenuity in the fight against COVID-19.
The 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade and Supply Activity Europe, Theater Logistics Support Center-Europe, both located in Kaiserslautern, Germany are leveraging their skills and resources to produce face masks for Soldiers.
Normally known for packing parachutes and supporting airborne operations as a Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 5th QM has reset their mission to focus on mask production for Soldiers performing high-risk jobs such as gate screeners, postal workers, and culinary specialists. The unit started by going through different prototypes figuring out the best ways to make face masks according to Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General's guidelines. Eventually one style was agreed upon, kick starting the production phase.
“Right now we are producing about 150 face masks a day and are working to get up to producing close to 200 by the end of the week,” said Capt. Tom Barcomb, 5th QM Commander. “We have a total of 14 Soldiers split working day-on, day-off and we even have Soldiers coming in on their free time doing a lot of the preparatory work.”
Using bed sheets as a base material, the 5th QM riggers process of making the masks consists of stenciling the shape of the mask, cutting the outline, attaching elastic, Velcro, or cloth ties, and then sewing the mask together, Barcomb explained.
5th QM is operating on an "indefinite demand, indefinite quantity" basis while producing the masks. They are prioritizing distributing the mask to those in essential services, then shifting the priority to get the masks to others within the theater.
Supply Activity Europe’s mask making process is similar to what the riggers are doing. Utilizing a team of German and Department of the Army civilian employees from a variety of different jobs within the organization they're dedicating efforts to protect the force so daily operations can still be accomplished.
Marco Schaefer, who normally works as a Tentmeister in the TLSC-E, opens up about how it feels to be a part of something crucial like this.
“It feels good to help out and be a part of this mission,” Schaefer said. “No matter what your job is, everyone is pulling together in one direction working as a team.”
To Jutta Gerber, one of the only full-time seamstress at the SAE, it means a lot to her to still be able to sew, albeit in a different manner from what she typically sews on a day-to-day basis, because it is helping her fellow colleagues and friends.
“It is important for me,” Gerber said. “It is important to the people to be able to get these masks.”
Schaefer and Gerber both have experience in sewing (Schaefer sews in his free time) but had never sewn masks before. The team’s masks consist of cloth with elastic straps that wrap around the ear and a Velcro strap looped on the back of the mask for adjustments.
21st TSC and its subordinate units are doing their part to fight the spread of the virus. While mask production is a temporary new mission for these units to fill gaps until the DoD can issue face coverings across the force, the distribution side is not. The delivery of masks will continue to be the concerted effort of the unit, and the flexibility, resolve, and resiliency that the individuals involved in this experience gained will be beneficial. It is up to each individual to also make a concerted effort to follow the DOD and CDC guidance to “cover”.