CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - As COVID-19 has reshaped routines across the United States, American citizens have coped with stay-at-home orders in unique ways.
For Miyuki Kamada, a Silicon Valley-based technology manager, creating cloth facial-coverings for Soldiers deployed to the Middle East was her way of serving her country.
When Kamada discovered her fiancé, Sgt. 1st Class William Knight, a Soldier deployed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and other Soldiers in his unit would be required to wear facial masks by the Department of Defense in March, she knew she wanted to help. Masks were in short supply around the world.
Kamada was inspired by the symbolism of Rosie the Riveter, a character featured on the iconic World War II-era poster flexing her arm below a speech bubble that says, “We Can Do It!” She designed and manufactured masks on her sewing machine for the troops.
“Everyone can contribute,” she said. “Of course I wanted to help.”
The Centers for Disease Control recommend individuals wear cloth facial-coverings in public settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others. Kamada was troubled by the fact that many deployed service members were unable to purchase masks even if they wanted to when the DoD mandated it.
Many people infected with the disease do not show symptoms immediately or may not show any symptoms at all. Among those most at risk are individuals 65 and over, are immunocompromised, have a chronic lung disease or who have serious heart conditions. More than 100,000 Americans have perished from the disease and almost 2 million more have been infected.
There is no apparent vaccine in sight.
“Life or death,” Kamada said.
She searched the internet to find a design to use for the masks. Information online was abundant, but she found the Centers for Disease Control website to be particularly helpful. She poured through her wardrobe and selected materials that were made of 100 percent cotton.
Mask making was trial and error at first. Kamada had a difficult time locating materials to use as elastic bands. To work around this shortage, she used items such as pantyhose and old hairbands, but found that the hairbands were too tight.
Before she began working, she washed all her materials according to the CDC’s guidance. She completed her first batch of six masks in about 24 hours. There were a variety of techniques she needed to incorporate, such as using pins to hold the garments together and using an iron to give the mask its folded shape.
“I was getting better and better the more I made,” she said.
Over the course of a couple weeks, Kamada sent three expedited boxes filled with masks to the Soldiers. Today, masks can be found at numerous PX’s throughout the U.S. Army Central region, but Soldiers in Knight’s unit prefer Kamada’s masks and their special homemade touch.
“There’s a lot more care put into them,” said U.S. Army Spc. Ryan Swanson, a Soldier in Knight’s unit who received several of Kamada’s masks. “She stepped up and set a good example for others.”
Kamada moved to the United States from Osaka, Japan, in 1993. She now lives about 30 minutes away from Rosie the Riveter Park in Richmond, California. During World War II, women took jobs in industry to make up for the labor shortage caused by millions of American men who were sent to fight in the Pacific and European theaters. Rosie the Riveter was an icon of the era, representing and inspiring millions of women to serve their country on the homefront.
In 1943, women made up 65 percent of the aircraft industry’s total labor force, up from around 1 percent before the war.
Women were a critical part of the war effort, Kamada said.
It was no surprise to her fiancé that she was driven to serve her country by making masks.
“She’s owned about three or four businesses since I’ve known her,” Knight said. “She’s self-educated. She is an American homeowner. She’s raised a son who’s a college graduate.”
Kamada also runs marathons, triathlons, is scuba certified and a surfer. She is a project manager at her Buddhist temple.
Kamada said she’s noticed major changes in people’s day-to-day lives from the coronavirus in her hometown. Many people now work from home and Kamada has noticed that people do not travel as far from home as they used to. People are also complying with social distancing guidelines and wearing masks in public settings and many establishments that she used to frequent are now closed.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for people to find themselves,” Kamada said. “What’s most important in life.”
The coronavirus has put Kamada’s plan to obtain citizenship on hold. Just as she was preparing to take her U.S. citizenship test, it was postponed to an unspecified date. Kamada wanted to become a citizen because she wanted to contribute to American society as a citizen, including the right to vote. She was fascinated by the opportunities that the U.S. provides a well as its creative people.
“I want to be a part of it, and I want to contribute,” she said. “As a citizen.”
For now, knowing her Soldiers have masks makes made all the work worth it.
“If I can ease their worries, it makes me feel good,” she said.