Great Minds: MHAFB Airmen protect force health through ingenuity
By Senior Airman Tyrell Hall, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 10, 2020
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- With the protection of force health being a top priority during this time of crisis, Gunfighters are protecting Airmen with ingenuitive techniques and advanced technology as they use 3-D printers and materials to craft face shields and masks.
Mission success hinges on each Airman's ability to perform at their best and the 366th Operation Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment (AFE) and The 366th Munitions Squadron's Air Force Repair Enhancement Program (AFREP) are empowering Airmen to continue delivering air power.
Face masks serve to control the spread of COVID-19. Having them is a key element in protecting those we come in contact with and are especially useful in workplaces where maintaining social distancing proves difficult.
The Center for Disease Control disseminated guidance depicting ways to fashion personal cloth masks from home. However, answering the call to support essential personnel, SMSgt Erick Matos, 366th OSS AFE superintendent utilized the same method and assembled a team purposed for the mass production of the masks.
All hands are on deck at AFE to ensure the masks were made with speed and quality.
"We collaborated on a concept on how to make them efficiently and get them out quickly," Matos said. "We want the product to be effective."
The masks, which first go through a washing and disinfecting process, are fashioned with a multi-layered design to create a proper barrier. They are also breathable.
AFE's production efforts yielded fruitful results as the team successfully crafted over 500 masks for essential personnel across the base and they have their eyes set on filling the need wherever it's presented. Be it for service members or civilian inhabitants.
"We were going to keep going until we stop, if we have the material and the means we'll keep producing and get masks out to the squadrons," Matos said.
The Airmen of the 366th OSS stepped up to the plate, learning new skills in the pursuit of force protection and taking pride in ingenuity. Their impact allows Airmen to remain healthy and perform in their jobs.
"The important thing here is they know who they are making these masks for, and they know their impact," Matos said. "I am confident and proud of the team working here."
He mentioned AFE shops across the Air Force have come together on a unified front to combat COVID-19 in the crafting of masks.
To complement AFE's efforts, the AFREP team on base is utilizing 3-D printers to craft face shields, face masks and devices called Ear Savers for personnel. The Ear Savers, which are often used in the medical field for doctors and patients, utilize hook-like pieces that grab the elastic bands of cloth masks.
"They are meant to bypass hooking onto the ear, preventing scratching and irritation," Staff Sgt. Adrian Ramparsad, 366th OSS supply technician.
As for the 3-D printed masks, they are made of a material similar to the rubber used in M50 gas masks, conforming to the face to create a seal. Both devices are able to withstand extreme temperatures without warping, malfunctioning or resizing.
"We put them in a machine washer for 60 minutes and an oven up to 170 degrees and the mask came out unaltered," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Burbank, NCO in charge of AFREP.
These masks are also designed with built in slots for filters. AFREP has even prototyped children-sized masks, and are able to custom fit masks to specific individuals.
"That's the good thing about 3-D design, you can modify it infinitely," Ramparsad said.
Staying on the leading edge of technology and employing ingenuity, the AFREP team is not only protecting Airmen’s health, but enhancing force operability by allowing members access to reliable face protection.
The impact of their work extends beyond the mission to service personnel on base as well. The face shields they are printing are for Army and Air Force Exchange service employees, crafted to protect them against the spread while they serve base members.
"We're trying to be helpful in any way we can," Burbank said.
The Air Forces greatest asset is it's Airmen whether they be Active Duty, reserve, civilian or Retired. As the Airmen of MHAFB come together to leverage ingenuity in support of Airman health, they enhance the execution of current and future operations.