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NEWS | April 23, 2020

Taking care of each other, one mask at a time

By Amber Kurka

Taking care of each other is nothing new for Public Health Activity-San Diego. For these Soldiers, the spirit of teamwork and family are foundational cornerstones in all they do, despite being geographically dispersed throughout California.

Responsible for veterinary services and food safety inspections on military installations, PHA-SD Soldiers have to keep the mission going to keep others safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that activity Soldiers and Family members need to stay healthy through use of personal protective equipment.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new recommendations on how wearing cloth face coverings, such as masks, can slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, especially in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

On April 5, when the Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, released new guidance on the use of cloth face coverings, Capt. Austin Leedy, officer in charge of Camp Pendleton Branch Veterinary Services, decided to come up with an idea to help all Soldiers and Family members throughout the activity.

“I enjoy making things and I know how to sew, so when I heard about this new requirement I knew masks were something I could make,” explained Leedy. “I looked online and called my best friend’s mom, who works in the health care industry, to troubleshoot a pattern I had seen her use.”

Armed with a single sewing machine and donated fabric, Leedy recruited several teammates and her husband to help with the task at hand during the following Sunday afternoon.

“For me, being able to help was important,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Dongseok Ryu, noncommissioned officer in charge of Camp Pendleton Branch Veterinary Services. “This is a deadly situation, so protecting the health of our Soldiers and their Families inspired me to want to work over the weekend to help make masks.”

While spread out and practicing social distancing the team worked together cutting and stitching cloth face coverings to help keep others safe.

“At first, there was just five of us and my sewing machine,” explained Leedy. “It was really tedious, since it could take up to 25 minutes to make one mask.”

Despite the lack of equipment and a few setbacks, the team continued the undertaking. What started off as a simple weekend project quickly grew as several more Soldiers throughout the activity volunteered to help during Easter weekend.

“During the second weekend, we had the activity commander and first sergeant here with three more sewing machines,” said Leedy. “That was a huge help and we were really able to ramp up production.”

Together the team produced more than 120 masks to distribute to Soldiers and Family members throughout the activity.

“It was great to have our leadership team here working with us,” said Ryu. “This is such a stressful situation, so it is important to take care of each other during this time. I think all of our Soldiers really appreciate how much our leadership cares about them.”

The cloth face coverings served as a temporary solution to help keep PHA-SD Soldiers mission ready and safe.

“The Army is about taking care of each other,” explained Leedy. “A lot of people don’t have family nearby to take care of them. As an officer, I do the best that I can to be there for my team because we are a family."

For members of PHA-SD, they embodied the Public Health Command-Pacific credo of "100/0!" which is giving 100 percent with zero excuses.