Coming together in the face of the unseen

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Matthew Gilmore
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Matthew Gilmore

Coming together in the face of the unseen

by Staff Sgt. Matthew Gilmore
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Fifty grams of plastic, two seven-inch rubber bands, and a standard U.S. letter-sized transparent folder. These are the ingredients needed to make a single, 3-D printed, face shield approved for use by the National Institutes of Health. While the ingredients are simple, the impact they can have on preventing an individual’s exposure to aerosols can be the difference when it comes to dealing with potential infectious diseases.

It is with this knowledge in mind that the Airmen of the 374th Maintenance Squadron Fabrications Flight metals technology shop out of Yokota Air Base, Japan, have shifted some of their efforts into producing 200 of those very face shields, bolstering Yokota’s Personal Protective Equipment supply in the face of ongoing global pandemic.

“The idea actually came in the form of an email from our career field’s functional manager at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI,” said Staff Sgt. Gabriel Franco, 374th MXS metals technology craftsman. “The medical team down there was struggling to maintain the supply of PPE needed to properly treat the COVID-19 threat across Hawaii. To respond to that crisis, the fabrications flight there was able to produce these simple face shields composed of a 3-D printed plastic base along with other basic office supplies to enable their medical team to better address the issue.

“In reading that email, I had to ask myself, our career field produces parts for aircraft that can’t be traditionally made. We have a 3-D printer and that is very much the future of what we can do for the mission, this entire problem is one we solve for our aircraft, so why can’t we produce these face shields for Yokota?”

It’s that question and proactive approach that has led to Franco’s idea climbing through the chain of command for approval and ended with face shields being worn by 374th Security Forces Squadron and 374th Medical Group personnel within two-day’s time, providing an added layer of protection for those on the front lines of Yokota’s defense.

“Staff Sgt. Franco and his fellow Airmen from the fabrications flight really took it upon themselves to make this happen,” said Lt. Col. Kris Lamothe, 374th MXS commander. “Not only did they bring a fully fleshed out idea up to us, one that was widely accepted by base leadership to address a potential future need, but they also brought in their own personal printers to increase what we are capable of producing.

“With each print taking roughly an hour and twenty minutes to complete, the personnel at the gates, augmentees, medical team and Child Development Center staff wouldn’t have the level of protection they do today if not for everything these Airmen have done.”

It is that exact level of protection that has the potential to make all the difference when it comes to preventing any COVID-19 related cases from emerging at Yokota.

“These facemasks are a critical part of protecting our frontline workers against exposure by providing a barrier to the eyes, nose and mouth from droplets,” said Lt. Col. Kenji Takano, 374th Aerospace Medicine Squadron chief of aerospace medicine. “When used in combination with respirators and other PPE, these shields stand to increase the life supply of our equipment, allowing us to not only protect our people and conserve our supplies in the face of a worldwide shortage, but to maintain our capability to care for others.

“The production of these 3-D printed shields provides us an added barrier as we work through our disease containment strategies and is an excellent example of the entire team coming together and providing critical expertise to help protect our community from the threat of COVID-19.”

It is that exact need to protect the community that will serve as bonding force for Team Yokota as it works to combat what is proving to be quite the unconventional threat.

“This entire production process definitely ramped up quickly but we wouldn’t have come forward with the idea if we had any issue with adding to our normal duties,” said Franco. “This is obviously a serious issue that doesn’t just effect a single person or shop. This is an issue that stands to potentially have an impact on our entire community, knowing that and the issues other installations are already facing, this was our way of trying to get ahead of the curve and do what we can to help protect our Yokota family.”

In the event more masks are needed, you own your own personal 3-D printer, and you would like to assist in the future production of said masks, please contact the metals technology shop at 225-9613 for more information on how you can get involved in the manufacturing process.

Photo Caption:
Staff Sgt. Gabriel Franco, 374th Maintenance Squadron Fabrications Flight metals technology craftsman, adjusts the design of a National Institutes of Health approved face shield to produce a sturdier product for use by 374th Security Forces Squadron and 374th Medical Group personnel at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 2, 2020. Amid what is a worldwide shortage of PPE, these 3-D printed shields will increase the lifespan of other vital protective equipment, bolstering Yokota’s ability to protect its personnel and provide a safe, quality level of care to those that require medical assistance.

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