Marines and sailors stationed in Okinawa, Japan, are 3D printing protective gear like face shields and face mask frames to help stem the tide of an outbreak of COVID-19.

The service members with III Marine Expeditionary Force have 3D printed and delivered to its forces across Okinawa more than 400 face shields and 4,800 face mask frames, according to a release.

The additive manufacturing capability with III MEF is helping free up resources and supply chain issues for medical personnel and first responders.

U.S. Forces Japan announced Wednesday a Japan-wide public health emergency over COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization 8,100 people have tested positive for COVID-19 across Japan.

The virus is continuing to spread across Okinawa, where thousands of Marines are stationed.

“For example, on Okinawa, there is community spread, there are cases outside of Naha, and the number of positive cases is greater than 75,” III MEF posted to Facebook.

III MEF said in a release it is using more than 60 3D printers spread across the force on Okinawa to print the personal protective equipment.

“Traditionally, we make supplies for weapons systems — for trucks, but today we’re making PPE for people to be protected against COVID-19,” Lt. Col. Matt Milburn, commanding officer of 3rd Maintenance Battalion, said in the release. “We were able to shift our focus in a matter of hours.”

“We recognized the problem, turned our Marines loose, and within 48 hours we had developed, tested, and mass-produced a solution,” Chief Warrant Officer 4 Sean Flores, the III MEF force utilities officer, said in the release. “It’s incredible what our Marines can do when given a problem that requires creative thinking.”

U.S. Forces Japan said the Japan-wide public health emergency will remain in effect until May 15 unless ended sooner by the USFJ commander.

“3D printing makes us flexible and agile,” Milburn, said in the release. “This technology gives a small footprint and a big advantage. We can localize the production process and create a new supply chain, setting us apart and up for success.”

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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