FAIRFIELD, Calif.–Sometimes there’s no one better than Mom to assist the United States military.
Go back decades to when President Herbert Hoover proclaimed, “the service rendered the United States by the American mother is the greatest source of the country’s strength and inspiration.”
The president’s 1936 statement is historically adopted into a preamble that forms one of the U.S. military’s most supportive organizations — American Gold Star Mothers.
Fast forward to now, when Paulina Hernandez didn’t speak but acted unselfishly to help the California Army National Guard. The Los Angeles resident and mother of U.S. Army Spec. Kimberly Ortiz of Alpha Company, 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 115th Regional Support Group, knew her daughter’s unit was in need of face masks.
Recent Department of Defense and Cal Guard policies require service members to wear facial coverings on base, during COVID-19 missions, and anytime they cannot maintain six feet of separation with another person. When some Cal Guard service members began humanitarian support missions in March, masks weren’t immediately available.
“I was on a FaceTime call with my mom and she was asking how I was doing. She asked, ‘are you using a face mask,’” Ortiz said. “I said ‘No. They ordered them but they haven’t gotten here.’”
That’s when Mom sprang into action.
“She’s been doing tailoring and has a sewing machine since she was little, so she got concerned about it,” added Ortiz. “She was like, OK. I’ll send you some. I’ll make some and send them just so everyone is safe.”
It didn’t take long for Hernandez to stitch nearly 100 cloth masks together and send to her daughter several hundred miles away. Since March, Ortiz has been on a humanitarian mission at Solano Food Bank in Fairfield, where about two dozen fellow warriors have been packing food and waiting for the masks to arrive.
“It was just something mom wanted to do for everyone in the company,” added Ortiz. “She tried for everyone in the battalion, but everything shut down. She couldn’t get fabric anywhere.”
Hernandez recounted her sewing experiences — a career spanning four decades — to make the masks. Citing medical issues, Hernandez slowed her seamstressing a few years ago, but she still knew what to do with what little material she had. Hernandez sterilized black cloth from a previous order, cut and layered them into appropriate pieces, sewed elastic bands together and shaped them to be fitted properly.
“It’s a way to help each other and keep everybody safe,” Hernandez explained. “I did it because it came from the heart. I wanted to do it because (Ortiz) is there and I know the struggle.”
Cal Guard implemented Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations across the force in April: Use cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The CDC advises wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as in grocery stores or pharmacies, and especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
“Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure,” CDC states on its website.
“She still makes (masks) for family members who haven’t been able to get access to them,” Ortiz said of her mom. “She’s still kind of into the business. People still have special requests on making something, like a dress. She can make just about anything you ask her too.”
“Having them made out of cloth is really helping, too,” said 2nd Lt. Jamee Wohle, Alpha Company’s executive officer. “We’re lifting heavy bags. We’re breathing heavy. These masks really help with these laborious tasks.”
Like Hernandez, Toni L. Eckert saw her military family’s need for masks and did the same motherly thing. The spouse of 115th command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. David A. Eckert, sewed cloth coverings for her Navy son in San Diego and husband in Roseville. Her “mother’s instinct” compelled her to react.
“Moms have years of experience that even most commanders don’t have,” Mom Eckert explained. “We are experts at seeing what’s coming. Think about your own mom and how sometimes she ‘just knew.’”
Toni Eckert for many years served as family readiness leader at various Cal Guard levels. She continues working constantly with mothers and spouses of Soldiers in the 115th.
“Did anyone ask me to make masks? No. But you know me, I’m always two steps ahead of the military,” Eckert replied. “I saw the need before it was there and actually had them made and ready before any announcements were made. I knew there was already a shortage and that there are no uniform masks already out there. I knew by pictures the 115th was posting that they were needed to keep our Soldiers (and my Sailor) safe. So, I made them to send.”
“In the beginning masks were in short supply and over time became easier to get,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Corella, 115th commander. “Many people stepped up and provided homemade masks which helped protect Soldiers from COVID-19.”
With Mother’s Day on the horizon, Hernandez and Eckert represent a part of motherly contributions to the military which have happened over countless years. American Gold Star Mothers gained Congressional charter as a Patriotic Organization under Title 36 of the U.S. Code. It formed shortly after World War I to provide support for those who had lost children in war, and it is still highly active in the COVID-19 era. The organization has gone on to provide care for many Armed Forces veterans and active duty service members.
Likewise, Blue Star Mothers of America has assisted the military since 1960, since the U.S. 86th Congress. Hence, mothers have been military supportive for so long, and are just as supportive today in the COVID-19 era.
“Mom’s not done. If there’s ever a case where we need more masks, she’ll make more at no cost,” Ortiz said of Hernandez.
“Since Ortiz showed up at the unit, she’s always been a good Soldier,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Yoon, Alpha Company platoon sergeant. “Her family has been kind enough to send us care packages as soon as we started this mission. She’s been tremendous to our unit. Her family found out we didn’t have enough masks, so they decided to make their own and ship them to us as soon as they can. Everyone is able to protect themselves thanks to Ortiz’s family.”
“It was appreciated,” Ortiz said when her comrades accepted the masks. “I told mom everyone says ‘Thank You’ for what you’re doing. It felt good it was all going back to my mom and not me.”
In tribute to military moms this Mother’s Day 2020, “Even a war general has a boss,” said Grace Darling Seibold, founder of American Gold Star Mothers. “That boss is his wife. And if not his wife, definitely his mom.”