Sewing with Compassion

Kevin Davis, an editor at the American Forces Network (AFN) Broadcast Center, sports a cloth mask sewn by a co-worker as he continues his mission.  Davis helps AFN provide the overseas military with morale-building TV entertainment, COVID-19 force protection messages and live news. (DoD photo)
Kevin Davis, an editor at the American Forces Network (AFN) Broadcast Center, sports a cloth mask sewn by a co-worker as he continues his mission. Davis helps AFN provide the overseas military with morale-building TV entertainment, COVID-19 force protection messages and live news. (DoD photo)

Sewing with Compassion

by George A. Smith
AFN Broadcast Center

When Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper directed DoD personnel to wear cloth face coverings when they can’t maintain six feet of social distance at work, people at the Defense Media Activity in Riverside, California, were already wearing them.

That’s because a big-hearted woman with extraordinary sewing skills took the initiative to make them.  Broadcast journalist Rolla Suttmiller sewed 160 cloth masks in a few days for her comrades, friends and neighbors …at no cost.  She started making them last week when Riverside county mandated all essential service workers wear a cloth face covering as a COVID-19 pandemic preventative measure.


(Left) Rolla Suttmiller, a broadcast journalist for the American Forces Network (AFN) Broadcast Center, made cloth masks for her co-workers in Riverside, Calif., who continue to work 24/7 through the COVID-19 pandemic. Suttmiller volunteered her sewing skills, material and time to make more than 30 masks in four hours; (Right) Jordana Jacobs a TV Operations Supervisor at the American Forces Network Broadcast Center, models a cloth mask sewn by a co-worker.  She wears the mask while continuing the mission of providing the overseas military with morale-building TV entertainment, COVID-19 force protection messages and live news. (DoD photo)

“I wanted to do it to protect myself at first,” said Suttmiller.  “Then I got a call from someone from work with an urgent request for masks for people in the building.  “I made 31 in four hours and brought them over the same day.

Suttmiller has been sewing since she’s 12, does crafts all the time and belongs to a multitude of sewing and crafts groups.

“I compiled a bit from all of them and did my own design with three layers,” she explained.  “If you go to the CDC web site you’ll see they recommend a high weave cotton.  You want that for breathability.  But there are still tiny little holes in it.  What I did is I have the decorative outer layer, a white layer that touches your face and a middle layer called interfacing. It’s made of something denser that doesn’t let light transfer through.”

She decided to sew scores of masks because of three factors.  “I have thousands of pounds of fabric on hand.  I have the skill.  And three, it would be immoral of me to not to put the two of these together and make them for people.”

Suttmiller sews compassion into every mask she stitches.

“Those custom made masks, made with such attention to detail with an assembly line of just her are spectacular,” said co-worker Roy Mason.

Jordana Jacobs, a television master control supervisor, laughed and said, “She’s really got those Suzy Homemaker skills down…and I love the design!”

Suttmiller is continuing to make masks, already fielding improved versions with a narrow elastic band.  One version has elastic loops that go over the ears, and another type ties behind the head.


Art Mistretta, a technologist at the American Forces Network Broadcast Center, wears a hand-sewn mask from a co-worker as he continues his mission.  Mistretta is one of a team manning a telephone help desk to help viewers fix satellite reception issues. (DoD photo)

While Suttmiller crafts face masks for teammates, she also continues to serve the overseas military, DoD civilians and their family members.   Suttmiller is a senior editor, creating quality television messages informing viewers what’s airing when on American Forces Network (AFN) Television. AFN serves Americans serving in 168 different countries and territories and 200 U.S. Navy ships afloat around the world.

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