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NEWS | April 15, 2020

Innovation team combats COVID-19 challenges

By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

As members of Joint Base Charleston continue to execute Air Mobility Command’s mission during a global pandemic, an innovation team here seeks ways to minimize health risks associated with COVID-19.

The innovation team, Palmetto Spark, is comprised of Airmen from across Joint Base Charleston, and their mission is to enable Airmen to solve problems they face day-to-day.

Currently, the team’s focus is on the manufacturing of face shields and hand sanitizer so DOD members can accomplish their mission with a layer of protection.

“I think it’s a good example of the things we can do in empowering Airmen,” said Capt. Christian Brechbuhl, 16th Airlift Squadron instructor pilot and Joint Base Charleston’s Director of Innovation. “Being able to produce on short notice with guidance from the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and our medical group isn’t something we normally have the ability to do, but we have a group of really motivated folks that work hard to make it a reality at the local level.”

Tech. Sgt. Austin Barkdoll, 373rd Training Squadron, Detachment 5 instructor and Palmetto Spark member, is one Airman working to produce hand sanitizer.

“We figured out, with some research looking at the World Health Organization and other agencies out there, there was a more cost-effective and timely way for us to supply more DOD personnel with hand sanitizing solution if we did it ourselves,” said Barkdoll. “Most importantly, by making our own, we are able to do our part to keep commercially produced hand-sanitizer available for our local medical community.”

Barkdoll said the team seeks simple solutions in tackling these projects and producing hand sanitizer is a fairly easy process as long as the producer measures ingredients precisely in a sterile environment. 

Staff Sgt. Devan Trammel, 628th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal flight team leader and Palmetto Spark member, helps create face shields in support of the mission.

“We’re working a 3D printing project, where we’re prototyping clips for masks and different face shields for medical members and other career fields, so our members who have to work and are essential are able to do so,” said Trammel. “Those face shields are going to extend the life of N95 masks which are currently the ones so tough to find.”

Trammel said they’re hoping to make enough face shields and hand sanitizer, in their initial production, to support 1,000 personnel.

As the Palmetto Spark team continues supporting the joint team here, Brechbuhl hopes the base populace utilizes their capabilities for future endeavors.

“We can be a one-stop-shop for an Airman to come in and prototype a solution whether it be a process improvement or product and help them get to ‘yes,’” said Brechbuhl. “We’re here to enable the Airmen of Joint Base Charleston. For the commanders, we’re here to help your Airmen solve your problems. We’re here for this base.”