NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Firefighters, first responders, and anyone else on the front lines is familiar with suiting up for protection; but what happens when there is a shortage of protective gear? This was the problem many were faced with throughout the nation when the COVID-19 pandemic began—but it did not stop Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) Nuclear Operations (Code 300N) Assistant Project Superintendent Stephen Dougherty. He decided to take matters into his own hands and make 100 facemasks for his project team members in Kings Bay, Georgia.
Growing up in a Navy family, Dougherty constantly moved before finally settling in Virginia. He attended the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Norfolk and went on to work for various contractors assigned to NNSY. In 2006, he transferred as a contractor to Huntington Ingalls-Newport News Shipbuilding for several years, a period that included volunteering to rebuild the company’s New Orleans facilities after Hurricane Katrina in 2007.
He applied at NNSY in 2011 and was hired as a sheet metal mechanic in the Structural Department (Code 920). From there, he gradually worked his way up to Assistant Project Superintendent in Code 300N.
As concerns about COVID-19 spread along with the virus, Dougherty was at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, and facemasks were hard to come by. “We were faced with the challenge of keeping the work moving, the need to protect our personnel from the virus, and having no commercially available facemasks for our workers,” said USS Alaska (SSBN 732) Project Superintendent Steve Conn, who worked with Dougherty at the time. With this new need, Dougherty had a will, and he made a way.
The task was not easy; Dougherty had to learn how to do something he did not have experience with, but learned quickly. “I referenced an article written by a Command Master Chief that explained how to make the masks. I got some material, started practicing with a sewing machine, figured out how to make it more efficient for us, and just started making them,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure that everyone on the project had one.”
Dougherty made about 20 facemasks per night by himself and distributed them the next morning. Conn added that he was not surprised by the initiative because “Dougherty is the type of guy who always maintains a positive attitude and looks for ways to help others.”
Because of his efforts and those of many others, the employees on Alaska stayed healthy and were able to accomplish their work efficiently and safely, and the vessel was able to complete testing a week earlier than scheduled.
Not only does he plan to keep making masks, but he also has helped reaffirm NNSY’s C.O.R.E. values in these uncertain times. “People look on the news and social media and see that there’s no facemasks, no toilet paper, no bread, and no milk,” he explained. “People are scared, and that is one of the reasons why we have to do our part in any way we can. Whether we are at home or away on duty, we still have the same responsibility to take care of each other.”