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New program delivers emergency-ready masks to Airmen

A clean, sanitized, tested mask prior to repackaging and being shipped out to an Airman in the field. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rodney Whaley)

An M50 mask is ready for shipping after being cleaned, sanitized and tested. The new Air Force Mask Inspection and Repair Program ensures all Airmen have a reliable mask to protect against chemical, biological or radiological attack. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rodney Whaley)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) --

Talk to any Air Force emergency manager and they’ll probably tell you a clean and serviceable M50 mask is the most important piece of equipment Airmen can have in a war-time environment.

Now, thanks to a small joint service team in Albany, Georgia, that equipment will have more reliability after going through the new Air Force Mask Inspection and Repair Program.

Previously, logistics readiness troops at installations were tasked with inspecting, sanitizing and repairing masks, although they may have had little experience or training, said Randy Jones, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s readiness directorate emergency management sustainment section lead.

“We realized that this really was an issue of mask readiness for our Airmen,” said Jones.

M50 joint service general purpose masks protect Airmen from chemical and biological agents as well as radioactive fallout particles.

“As part of the shelf-life program, we had a team conduct repair job orders and file reports,” said Rodney Whaley, an AFCEC readiness directorate chemical warfare defense equipment life cycle analyst. “Through this process, we found program shortfalls and saw a need for more extensive repair expertise.”

On behalf of the Air Force, AFCEC and Air Force Materiel Command’s supply chain management branch turned to chemical and biological defense experts, like Robert Wilson, for a way ahead. Wilson has more than 25 years of experience in chemical and biological defense and his organization has spent more than 20 years providing logistics surveillance and assessment support to the Air Force.

“Throughout the planning phase for the program, it was apparent that leadership from both AFMC and AFCEC were adamant about increasing mask readiness for their Airmen,” said Wilson, the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany joint program manager and Air Force inspection program manager. “As with any field of technology, it is good practice to have technicians with relevant skills and techniques in a prescribed field,” Wilson said. “Our fielding and surveillance technicians have years of training and experience in CBD surveillance and equipment assessment.”

In order for the new Air Force program to be successful, about 19,000 masks were provided as seed stock. Starting in January 2017, these masks were broken down, inspected, cleaned, sanitized, repaired if necessary, reassembled and tested.

“You can’t put a price on the experience of testers who have done this type of work for 10-15 years as compared to those who may have been doing it with very limited experience and training -- that’s a big difference,” Jones said.

Shipments of processed and approved masks, evaluated as 99.99 percent serviceable, arrived at installations in recent weeks. Installations receiving these masks are now swapping them out with masks they had in stock and shipping them to Georgia to receive depot-level maintenance.

Wilson and his team of contract employees expect to process about 8,000 masks a month.

“Each mask is unpacked, scanned, logged, broken down and inspected to see if anything is broken, damaged or missing,” Whaley said.

According to Jones, technicians take the mask down to the smallest component.

“Masks are scanned at each station with defects or annotations added along the way,” Jones said. “A report is generated from these scans that allow AFCEC to track defects and locations of defects to determine any points of failure along the way. It also gives us the ability to forecast for materials based on trends.”

Each mask is then washed, using specialized equipment and cleaning solution, to clean off any built up residue. The masks are then sanitized and placed into a temperature-controlled drying room for 24 hours to remove all moisture.

The mask is then tested for leaks before being reassembled and sent to the field to be issued to Airmen. 

“The mask is the absolute most important thing of any piece equipment Airmen have,” Whaley said. “For us to be able to have this process and say within 99.99 percent certainty that an Airman will be issued a mask that will provide them needed protection, it’s worth it.”

“You can’t put a price on readiness,” Jones said. “After seeing the reports from Robert Wilson and his team, this is the best thing for Airmen. I know now when they go to a logistics readiness squadron to get a mask, that mask is going to be clean and serviceable.”

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