Aircraft Carrier Crews Launch Mask-Making Drive

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman Airman Paula Guanco makes cloth face masks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Mediterranean Sea, April 4, 2020

Published Apr 10, 2020 10:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

Like many Americans, sailors assigned to the U.S. Navy's aircraft carriers are making their own fabric facemasks to safeguard those around them. 

The idea to produce "homemade" fabric face coverings was spearheaded by Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (CNAL) Force Surgeon Capt. Kimberly Toone. Toone, a graduate of the University of Florida College of Medicine, saw media coverage of her alma mater coordinating the production of face coverings for health care workers.

The masks are in production aboard aircraft carriers and air squadrons as an initial protective measure. The need is real, as cases have been reported aboard USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz, USS Carl Vinson and USS Theodore Roosevelt. Aboard the Roosevelt, more than 400 crewmembers have tested positive for the disease.

The material that sailors are using to create the masks is a fabric normally used to wrap surgical sets in the carrier’s operating room. It has the ability to block aerosols and droplets, including water, bacteria and other particles.

“While the masks that the sailors will be making are not a replacement for or an equivalent to N95 respirators, they do provide that protective barrier for our sailors,” said Toone. 

Since April 5, the U.S. Navy has required fabric face coverings for all servicemembers and civilians on DoD property when in situations where social distancing isn't possible (like the cramped environment aboard a carrier). 

Sailors aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS Abraham Lincoln, USS George Washington, USS John C. Stennis, USS Harry S. Truman, USS George H.W. Bush, and USS Gerald R. Ford have started to make fabric face coverings for their crews. The effort is led by aircrew survival equipmentmen, who have sewing skills. Some of the primary duties associated with a Navy aircrew survival equipmentman include maintaining and repairing parachutes, search and rescue equipment, and flight clothing— duties that often include sewing.

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman Airman Devonta Drum of the USS Stennis said helping his fellow sailors is exactly why he enlisted into the U.S. Navy. "This is actually what I signed up for, honestly it's what I'm here for, and I'm honored to be in this position to do this and help out my fellow brothers in arms,” said Drum. "There's more to it than us protecting ourselves, it's for us protecting civilians as well."

Currently, Stennis is putting out 30 masks per day, with an expected increase to nearly 50 a day by next week. The sailors have created an assembly line: while several sew, others are cutting fabric and putting the pieces and parts together to aid in creating the fabric face coverings as quickly as possible.