SUMPTER SMITH JNGB, Ala. --
There is always one specific needed item that rises to the top when disaster strikes. During storms it is shelter, during a financial crisis it is funding, during war times it is weapons, but during a global health pandemic we have quickly learned that facemasks are a top priority.
The way the mission at the 117th Air Refueling Wing in Birmingham is accomplished has somewhat transformed. Community volunteers have joined with Airmen, both active and retired, to make masks for every person on base and their families.
Maj. Michael Lochte, the 117th Logistics Readiness Squadron Commander, found out how great the people are in the Birmingham area after he started looking for facemasks. Lochte says the volunteer effort started with Tech. Sgt. Tatiana Cookingham about one month ago.
“This whole thing snowballed after Tatiana’s story came out,” said Lochte. “It’s a team effort all together, as I coordinate logistics of sourcing material and volunteers to make the masks and then the Command Chief is delivering the masks to our airmen and families within our wing.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 is spread through close contact and respiratory droplets, and the main way to combat the infection is with a facemask. But when a spike in demand creates supply shortages during a crisis, people step up to deliver those crucial items.
Take Carol Rawding Stewart for example. She runs her own local alterations business, is the president of a local rotary club and was a nurse for 30 years. Stewart is connected to the 117 ARW through her brother who served in the 117th Intelligence Squadron. She has now delivered just over 400 masks to the wing in just a few short weeks.
“Every time our country goes to war, I’ve always noticed women go to the sewing machine,” said Stewart. “Whether it was making uniforms or flags, it’s the same in this war against a deadly virus, and for every mask I’ve handed out I’ve received tenfold in blessings,” said Stewart.
Stewart is just one of many volunteers, as others have also answered the call. Two retired non-commissioned officers and 11 other current members of the 117 ARW are working to stitch even more masks. The Air Force core values are applied when making the masks. Integrity first. Service before self. Excellence in all we do. Together this team has already delivered 1,900 masks to the base.