WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL)— Staff Sgt. Jessica Solano began her aircrew flight equipment career six years ago as an AFE student at Sheppard Air Force Base.
Solano has deployed around the world in support of global operations to combat an enemy that likes to play hide-and-seek, but they are often found and destroyed. Never did she think that just two months into her AFE instructing career in the 361st Training Squadron that she’d be part of an effort in the 82nd Training Wing to ward off an invisible virus called COVID-19.
Solano, other instructors and recent AFE graduates have put their sewing skills to work to create thousands of cloth face covers out of garments like old Battle Dress Uniforms and Airman Battle Uniforms to recently discarded Operational Camouflage Pattern uniforms.
The race to provide another precautionary measure to the combat tool kit against COVID-19 began April 6, at the 361st TRS schoolhouse.
“As a relatively new instructor, I thought my focus was going to be on training and instructing,” Solano said. “But, I’m very thankful that I was able to be a part of something this big for the entire Sheppard Air Force Base [community]. I never once pictured that we would be doing something like this, but it’s been so beneficial and so helpful, so I’m glad to be part of it.”
The Department of Defense issued guidance on April 6, requiring use and wear of cloth face covers as another precautionary barrier to limit the spread of COVID-19 for military personnel, DoD civilians, their family members, and contractors when social distancing isn’t practical or difficult to maintain.
“Effective immediately, to the extent practical, all individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers,” the memo read, excluding on base residences. “This includes all: military personnel; DoD civilian employees; family members; DoD contractors; and all other individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities.”
The small army of sewing Airmen has received donations from people and organizations around base to begin their construction of this new line of defense for Sheppard’s military community.
Materials are gathered on the second floor of Bldg. 1900, cut into a small, roughly 6-inch by 4-inch rectangle, and then passed off to a station where a filter-type material is ironed on. The pieces of cloth are then taken by Airmen manning sewing stations and put together, including elastic earpieces.
While the group of 361st AFE course alumni are getting to work on creating the face covers, they’re not doing it alone. Recent graduates from other aircraft maintenance technical training schoolhouses have also stepped up to craft the homemade covers.
Solano said the different career fields working together is similar to a deployed environment, where Airmen often find themselves helping out others when needed.
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