By Maj. Cam Jordan, Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina — Parachute riggers who normally airdrop test Army equipment are using their sewing skills to fabricate protective masks to keep Soldiers and Civilians safe during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In what they have dubbed “Operation Iron Mask,” the Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate (ABNSOTD), home of the Army’s Test Paratroopers, is taking to heart the health and safety of Soldiers across Fort Bragg, as well as the U.S. Army Operational Test Command (OTC) team.
“Our riggers are glad to be contributing in the fight against COVID19,” said Capt. Jonathan Zeribiny, the Aerial Delivery Rigger Branch Chief.
“We are able to make a large number of masks quickly and at the fraction of the cost you would find in stores,” he added. “This is a team effort, and we are privileged to be able to contribute in any way we can.”
ABNSOTD riggers worked with fellow rigger units from across the Army to design masks using readily-available materials.
Riggers first began making masks and testing their design April 15, assembling 50 masks per day.
Now, with lots of practice and a streamlined process, they are sewing 750 masks per week, with 1,150 mask made so far.
With just the materials currently on-hand their goal is to make over 2,000 reusable protective masks.
“The team has really stepped up to the challenge,” said Sgt. 1st Class Henry Pinckney, a masked parachute rigger assigned to ABNSOTD.
“Our small shop is making over 100 masks a day,” he added.
“We hope these masks will facilitate operational testing to resume so that our Soldiers can receive the equipment they deserve to fight and win our Nation’s wars.”
The ABNSOTD riggers are working in shifts to meet growing requirements to provide masks to support operational testing throughout the Army.
This mass production by the ABNSOTD team will be an impressive cost savings to the Army by keeping operational testing costs down as well as allowing testing to continue and avoiding delays in the current pandemic environment.
“The safety of our Soldiers, civilian workforce, and OTC Soldiers is our number one priority,” said Shonda Strother, chief editor of test plans with ABNSOTD.
“Our team’s tireless work will ultimately contribute to the readiness and modernization efforts of both the Operational Test Command and the Army Test and Evaluation Command. I couldn’t be more proud of these paratroopers.”
ABNSOTD riggers are receiving new orders for masks from OTC daily and are focused on ensuring the force gets the protection they need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At ABNSOTD, we believe the American Warfighter deserves to have the best equipment possible to be able to fight and win,” said Col. Brad Mock, Director of ABNSOTD. “To that end, the Directorate helps inform fielding decisions through independent air transportability operational testing.”
“Providing these masks to the force is but a small way the ABNSOTD is working to allow for the continued testing of new equipment for our Soldiers, even during this pandemic,” said Strother.
About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:
The Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate plans, executes, and reports on operational tests and field experiments of Airborne and Special Operations Forces equipment, procedures, aerial delivery and air transportation systems in order to provide key operational data for the continued development and fielding of doctrine, systems or equipment to the Warfighter.
The U.S. Army Operational Test Command is based at West Fort Hood (Now designated Fort Cavazos), Texas, and its mission is about ensuring systems developed are effective in a Soldier’s hands and suitable for the environments in which Soldiers train and fight. Test units and their Soldiers provide feedback, by offering input to improve upon existing and future systems with which Soldiers will ultimately use to train and fight.