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Colorado Air Guard members sew masks in lieu of parachutes

By Maj. Kinder Blacke | 140th Wing | April 20, 2020

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BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Colorado Air National Guard’s 140th Wing Aircrew Flight Equipment (AFE) shop in Aurora volunteered to sew more than 500 masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

These Airmen learn to sew to make parachutes and mend uniform items, explained the commander of the 140th Operations Support Squadron, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Kelly.

“We knew these skills could be used in a creative way based on the current personal protective equipment procurement issues and the CDC’s new recommendation for wearing face coverings in public,” Kelly said.

Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these non-medical, cloth face masks can be produced at home with some fabric, elastic and a sewing machine.

“Sewing is a lost art, and only a few members actually have the ability to operate a sewing machine,” Kelly said. He then proposed the idea to the AFE team.

“When our commander asked if we could help, we agreed that we could manufacture 500 masks for our community,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jared McCartney, superintendent of aircrew flight equipment, 140 OSS. “We recognize that sewing is a critical skill in the current pandemic where masks are in high demand and short supply, and we could help!”

“AFE is one of those niche career fields that provide commanders added flexibility to provide capabilities where, normally, they wouldn’t exist,” McCartney said. “Sewing masks at a time when there is a national shortage is one such occasion where we conveniently have the required skill set.”

The team had to source material from around the country to meet the requirements, and began working in two-person teams to cut, assemble and sew the masks together, McCartney said. “Of course, we have to have a plan that minimizes our own exposure and maintains social distancing.”

Since each mask takes at least 20 minutes to create, the entire nine-member shop, plus three volunteers from the intelligence team, combined forces.

“I am extremely proud of the AFE shop for stepping up to the plate and offering their skills,” Kelly said. “They all came together, developed a process, and quickly implemented it.”

“We have two members working on base every day, while concurrently, multiple members are sewing masks at home on their personal machines,” McCartney said. “Even a few former members of the Aircrew Flight Equipment team have provided manpower, and other wing members have offered up their personal sewing machines to help accomplish the task.”

A major reason many Colorado Guard members joined the National Guard is to have the opportunity to serve their local community, McCartney said.

“Everyone involved in this mission has an extreme sense of pride in accomplishing this task and providing vital supplies to our fellow Airmen and our community,” he said.