Whiteman Air Force Base Airmen sew and donate masks across the country to slow the spread of COVID-19

  • Published
  • By by Senior Airman Thomas Barley
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

While uncertainty looms during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, one military couple at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, took the opportunity to lend a helping hand and support others.                                                                                                   

U.S. Air Force Capts. Lauren and Ben Kram, 393rd Bomb Squadron pilots, devoted hundreds of hours to making and donating masks for their squadron and people around the U.S.

"Working from home only goes so far for pilots, so with the extra free time, I wanted to do something that would help others during this pandemic," said Lauren. "I heard about people making fabric masks and donating them to hospitals, so I went to the store and picked up a few bright fabrics, and pulled out the sewing machine that's only been used to sew on military ranks and velcro."

Lauren used several resources, like YouTube and hospital websites, to create and design the masks.

"The design we made was referenced from a hospital website as appropriate for hospital donations," said Lauren. "I wanted to make sure the masks I made wouldn't be turned away when I donated them."

Inspired by his wife's passion for helping and work ethic, Ben decided to join in her efforts.

"Lauren was doing an awesome job and working hard, and as demand increased I knew she could use the help," said Ben. "I asked her to teach me how to sew, so that I could start helping her make masks and support the fight against COVID-19."

Lauren said that initially, this project started with a batch of masks they created and donated to the Western Missouri Medical Center. However, demand for her masks escalated when the Department of Defense mandated mask-wearing.

"Our commander forwarded the DoD guidance to everyone in our squadron, and since I was already in the process of making them for WMMC we volunteered," said Lauren. "That was Sunday evening. By 3 a.m. that next morning, I had made enough masks for all of the pilots in our squadron who were flying that week."

Due to limited space available in the B-2 Spirit, T-38 Talon and the simulators, abiding by the 6 feet of social distancing guidelines proved difficult for the pilots. The Kram’s mask-making efforts helped to ensure our flying force stayed healthy and there was no break in training or flying for the squadron.

As other squadrons around base started hearing about the Kram’s mask making, requests started pouring in.

“We provided a majority of the masks for the 393rd BS and 13th BS, and a smaller amount for the 509th Operation Support Squadron, 509th Security Forces Squadron, and the 20th Attack Squadron,” said Lauren.

Lauren said production was slow at first, but with the support of the community the pair were able to quickly pick up the pace.

"There were a bunch of neighbors and coworkers who donated elastic bands, hairbands, and hair ties they had laying around the house, which was a huge help," said Lauren. "Almost everyone has donated money or resources to help with costs of supplies, which really helped since demand had more than doubled the cost of supplies."

Once everyone in the squadrons received a mask, the Kram’s began to look elsewhere to further their donation efforts.

"We started making masks for families," Ben said. "The transmission of COVID-19 slows down if more people wear masks, so the more people we can get masks to, the better it is for everyone."

While the masks the Kram’s make are designed to keep people safe, Lauren hopes they will also help lift people’s spirits.

"Everyone is much more isolated right now than they normally would be," Lauren said. "We don't have the usual face to face interactions that a lot of us need, so we hope that these masks provide some sense of encouragement."

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Rob Schoeneberg, the 393rd Bomb Squadron commander, praised the Krams for manufacturing masks for their squadron and many others throughout Whiteman AFB.

“Our mission at Whiteman is absolutely critical and the 393rd would have continued to operate without the creative efforts of the Krams,” said Schoeneberg. “However, their ingenuity and selflessness inspired others to do the same. It created awareness and highlighted the need for techniques to mitigate COVID-19 and it ultimately resulted in ensuring that the health and combat readiness of the 393rd Bomb Squadron was not compromised.”

Today, Lauren and Ben continue to make masks for members of Team Whiteman and to others across the country. Collectively, the Kram’s have donated over 500 masks to friends and family, military bases, hospitals, and nursing homes all over the U.S. in hopes of flattening the curve, keeping people safe and lifting spirits.