The Home Front: Families make face masks for the 31st MEU Marines

Courtesy photo by Kirsten Brodie
Courtesy photo by Kirsten Brodie

The Home Front: Families make face masks for the 31st MEU Marines

by Sgt. Audrey Rampton
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Based out of Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) operates as the forward deployed crisis response force for III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) in the Indo-Pacific region. While these Marines and Sailors stand ready to respond to any contingency, on the home front, their families are also finding unique ways to support the MEU and maintain future readiness by sewing protective face masks for the unit.

The Marines of the 31st MEU returned to a new world weeks ago, when amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) pulled into port in Okinawa after the MEU’s completion of Exercise Cobra Gold 20 and Naval integration training in Guam as well as the South and East China Seas. While the MEU had been conducting their training and real world missions, COVID-19, a new respiratory virus, became a global pandemic. As they headed back to land, Marines were informed of the new requirement to wear protective masks, which they would have to fashion out of t-shirts or other fabric.

Knowing all the Marines would require masks, family members back home sprang into action, creating face masks for many of the MEU’s Marines and Sailors.

“We have an awesome Marine Corps family, and we wanted to protect our Marines and Sailors,” said Kirsten Brodie, who spearheaded the families' effort to make masks for the Marines.

Brodie began making several masks for Marines before expanding her efforts and enlisting the help of other members of the 31st MEU family to make masks for the entire MEU command element returning to Okinawa. Twelve women prepared 228 masks, spending 230 hours shopping for material, then cutting, sewing and assembling the masks, just in time for the Marines to disembark the USS America.

“When I heard how many masks Kirsten Brodie needed to complete to achieve her goal, I knew I needed to try and help in any way I could,” said Christa Mroszczak, who helped cut the material used for the masks.

The families faced many challenges as new restrictions were implemented to keep service members on Okinawa safe. Mari Rock connected with the Marine Thrift Store to provide woodland camouflage material for the masks as the bases quickly sold out of fabric. While cutting the fabric, she found that not all the masks fit all faces and began experimenting with different styles and sizes.

“I was happy to help make masks for our Marines and Sailors. It’s always a joy to see our MEU family come together and support each other,” said Stefanie Lennon, who helped cut the fabric for the masks.

“My greatest hope is that a sense of safety and alleviation of stress was provided to Marines and their families upon being provided with appropriate personal protective equipment,” said Amy Fisher, who lent her sewing expertise to the effort.

The 31st MEU returned home safely and received the masks on the pier. Though the families who had dedicated their time could not hand out the masks themselves, the Marines passed on their gratitude for their hard work. Their dedication will be remembered every time we see a 31st MEU Marine wearing a mask.

“It was nice to have masks made for us, in a way it was our own welcome home,” said Lance Cpl. Cora Reichert, an intelligence specialist with the MEU and native of Columbus, Ohio.

For a unit like the MEU, which is expected to maintain a constant state of preparedness to execute essential missions in the Indo-Pacific region, it is the dedication of the families back home that enables the Marines and Sailors to stay ready for anything, even amidst a global pandemic.

The 31st MEU, the Marine Corps' only continuously forward-deployed MEU, provides a flexible and lethal force ready to perform a wide range of military operations as the premier crisis response force in the Indo-Pacific region.

Photo Caption:
Kirsten Brodie, one of the women who spearheaded the effort to make masks for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Marines, sorts masks at Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan, April 24, 2020. Twelve women prepared 228 masks, spending 230 hours shopping for material, then cutting, sewing and assembling the masks for The Marines. The 31st MEU, the Marine Corps' only continuously forward-deployed MEU, provides a flexible and lethal force ready to perform a wide range of military operations as the premier crisis response force in the Indo-Pacific region.

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