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JBA sparks innovation for COVID-19 facemasks

11th Wing Public Affairs

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In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, personnel at JBA are coming up with ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to carry out the many missions on base.

Social distancing is a challenge for personnel in the medical, emergency response and aviation fields, as they balance performing their mission-essential duties and maintaining the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended six feet of distance. The use of facemasks solves this problem but presents another challenge in terms of supply.   

A team of Airmen at the SparkX Cell Innovation & Idea Center have been working to solve this very problem and began 3D printing of prototyped facemasks from their facility.

“The SparkX Cell is a place for Airmen to go brainstorm new ideas or solutions to problems in the Air Force,” said Maj. Vincent Giacomino, 11th Wing SparkX Cell chief innovation officer. “We saw an emerging need for facemasks and began working a prototype on March 6. Though our production capacity is limited, we knew we could support our community of first responders, security forces, fire and basically your people who come in contact with a lot of people.”

According to Giacomino, these printed masks are better than home-made cloth masks due to the materials used in the production. There are different prototype models and sizes that require varying amounts of time to print and fit to the member’s face.

“Seeing the SparkX Cell work on this level is surprising, but it’s not surprising,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. “They’re making things better for all of us and to see them working on something this important, it makes me extremely proud of what they’re doing here.”

Wright added to the importance of having a team like the one at the SparkX Cell and the creative solutions Airmen are solving problems with.

“We’re trying to provide [the best design] where people can mount whatever sort of filter material they have at their disposal,” said Giacomino. “Since we started this effort a few weeks ago, we have delivered custom-fit facemasks to our medics at the front lines of this fight, defenders at the gates and aircrew who serve the Presidential airlift mission.”

One of the members who helped in the design of these masks is Tech. Sgt. Matthew Walsh, 11th Medical Group NCO in-charge of cardiopulmonary services. Walsh has been the liaison between both the medical and innovation sides of this project, as he also works as an innovation technician at the SparkX Cell.

“As a respiratory therapist, we deal with the airways, so I’m more of the clinical expert for the creation of the masks,” said Walsh. “Here at the SparkX Cell, we have more resources to try and find a solution, and that is a huge asset when it comes to security and safety initiatives for our personnel.”

Walsh added that he hopes the SparkX continues to create solutions to combat the spread of COVID-19 through their culture of innovation. That culture is one where Airmen at all levels are actively engaged in finding innovative, cost effective and meaningful solutions to problems within the Air Force.

“Challenging times have historically presented an opportunity for our great Airmen to shine,” said Col. Andrew Purath, 11th Wing and JBA commander. “I’ve witnessed a community effort and innovative solutions by our Airmen to ensure we meet our no-fail mission demands across the board [here at Andrews] while big Air Force works on an ultimate solution.”

The 11th Wing is the host wing for Joint Base Andrews providing security, personnel, contracting, finance and infrastructure support for five wings, three headquarters, more than 80 tenant organizations, 148 geographically separated units, 6,500 Airmen in the Pentagon, as well as 60,000 Airmen and families in the national capital region and around the world.