NEWS | April 21, 2020

Parachute Riggers Make Face Masks to Protect the Utah National Guard

By Sgt. Nathaniel Free 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne)

To slow the spread of COVID-19 among Soldiers and Airmen in the Utah National Guard, parachute riggers with 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), at Camp Williams, use their skills to make approximately 2,000 face masks.

"In an effort to meet Department of Defense guidance, the Utah National Guard will be sewing a limited number of face masks for our service members,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Anderson, the state senior enlisted leader. “The Utah National Guard continues to implement force protective measures to lessen the spread of COVID-19 to our service members, their families, and the citizens of Utah."

An official DoD memo issued on April 5, 2020, states in part: "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."

“We are going to take every measure to protect our troops,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in an interview with ABC’s This Week, ahead of the official release of the memo. “Our priority is making sure we can conduct our national security missions, and to do that we can’t always keep six-feet distance.”

While the Utah National Guard has limited capabilities when it comes to sewing face masks, leaders have taken the necessary steps to ensure those resources are being used for the safety and readiness of service members. A vacant building at Camp Williams, Utah, was converted into a mask-making assembly line, and materials for the face masks were purchased in an expedited manner. 

“We’ve been tasked to make masks for the Utah National Guard because we are parachute riggers,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeff Holt, senior airdrop warrant officer for 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), who runs the parachute rigging facility at Camp Williams. “We have the sewing machines as equipment to repair parachutes, and we have the knowledge because we’ve been doing this for all of our career.”

The parachute riggers are planning to make 2,000 face masks, using a pattern provided by University of Florida Health, which they have modified with adjustable 550 paracord straps. From cutting to finished production, a single mask takes an average of 10 minutes to make.

“We’re using bed sheet material, double sided,” said Sgt. Joseph Haywood, a parachute rigger assigned to 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group. “It’s great that we can use [sewing machines] not just for repairing parachutes, but also to be able to help in this pandemic, to utilize all of our efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ and help bring safety to the force.”

The 2,000 face masks are being distributed to essential Utah National Guard Soldiers and Airmen.