Helping the Frontlines Get Back in Uniform - William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital
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William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital

 

Helping the Frontlines Get Back in Uniform

Erik Bakko takes a self-portrait during training at a qualification range on Ft. McCoy in 2015.

Erik Bakko takes a self-portrait during training at a qualification range on Ft. McCoy in 2015.

By Jamie Watson
Friday, May 8, 2020

MADISON, Wis.  — Erik Bakko, an Army Veteran and VA employee at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wis., is using skills he learned on active duty to help health care providers on the frontlines “get back in uniform” by creating face masks out of old military uniforms.

Bakko, who works in the Environmental Management Service (EMS) at the Madison VA, spent a total of 13 years in the military, initially enlisting in the Army for 7 years as a Parachute Rigger and later joining the Wisconsin National Guard for an additional 6 years as an Armor Officer.

Riggers pack personnel main and reserve parachutes, as well as cargo parachutes.

A major part of the Rigger Military Occupational Specialty includes learning how to repair holes in canopies, fix broken parachute lines, and fix damaged straps and harnesses for the parachutes.

“Being a Parachute Rigger was a humbling profession, as people’s lives were depending on our attention to detail,” said Bakko. “Our motto was, ‘Good to the Last Drop!’”

 

Erik Bakko’s mother, Katherine Bakko wears the face mask he created for her from one of his old uniforms.

Erik Bakko’s mother, Katherine Bakko wears the face mask he created for her from one of his old uniforms.

When COVID-19 started, Bakko and his wife, Amanda, saw that their community was asking for people to donate masks to those on the frontlines.

As the pandemic grew Bakko realized the importance of safety for healthcare workers and that of his essential coworkers working alongside of him.

“I thought about my mom living by herself on the east coast, and how I could not wear my Army uniform to fight this invasion and help keep her safe,” said Bakko.

At that moment, Bakko’s two worlds merged and he decided to make his mother a mask to let her know that even though he could not wear his uniform to save her, perhaps her wearing a mask made from his old uniforms could help keep her safe.

Bakko’s thought was that it would allow Veterans to continue to wear their uniforms with a new purpose.

He started experimenting with templates and found a great design.

With approximately 105 EMS employees, and more than half being Veterans, Bakko is continuing his quest to make sure the EMS staff can display their service connection and be protected.

 

Erik Bakko (back center) and members of the environmental Management Staff from the Madison VA Hospital display their facemasks made from recycled military uniforms. From left to Right: Paris Allen-Saffold, Sara Johnson, Deb Shaw, Erik Bakko, Allen Huseth, Geoffrey Mongiat.

Erik Bakko (back center) and members of the environmental Management Staff from the Madison VA Hospital display their facemasks made from recycled military uniforms. From left to Right: Paris Allen-Saffold, Sara Johnson, Deb Shaw, Erik Bakko, Allen Huseth, Geoffrey Mongiat.

New masks are in production for staff from a donated supply of Marine, Navy and Army uniforms, with Air Force & Coast Guard masks to come soon.

If you are interested in sewing masks for Veterans please visit: 

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html and follow the sewn face mask instructions.

Masks can be dropped off in laundry bins located outside and left of the main entrance of the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital.

Please contact the Community Relations office at 608-280-7030 before you come so your donation can be recorded, and we can send you a thank you.

For more information about the Madison VA Hospital, visit www.madison.va.gov or www.facebook.com/MadisonVAHospital.

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