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Patriotic Article

By USAF SSgt. Michael Longoria

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Airman Looks To Save Face
(March 15, 2011)

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ALI AIR BASE, Iraq (March 13, 2011) - Would you take a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun at point blank to save the life of another? Airman 1st Class Nicholas Mahan did and walked away without even a scratch. It's no miracle - after all, he had it covered.
Nearly five and a half years before his first deployment as a defender, Airman Mahan began protecting the faces and lives of U.S. service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, where hundreds have suffered facial wounds caused by explosions, gunshots or vehicle accidents.

Mahan, and other members of his family, founded a private company specializing in facial armor on May 5, 2005 after months of product development.

“We had to learn how to do everything,” he said. “It took us almost six months before we had a product we were comfortable with.”

The idea for the company started after Mahan's cousin, at the time Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Benjamin Mahan, returned from Iraq in 2004.
  Airman 1st Class Nicholas A. Mahan, 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Flight, poses for a picture with his helmet and attached facial armor March 8, 2011, at Ali Air Base, Iraq. Photo by Senior Airman Andrew Lee
Airman 1st Class Nicholas A. Mahan, 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Flight, poses for a picture with his helmet and attached facial armor March 8, 2011, at Ali Air Base, Iraq. Photo by Senior Airman Andrew Lee
“After returning home from a deployment as a gunner, my cousin was informed he only had a few months until he was going back,” said Mahan, 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Flight. “Remembering how vulnerable his face felt while in the turret, he started looking online to find some type of facial armor to take with him. After seeing there was no such armor, we decided to make it ourselves.”

While originally designed to protect gunners from improvised explosive devices, the product also mitigates against traumatic brain injuries and facial trauma for all vehicle passengers. The company has sold more than 50 masks and is looking to get one in the hands of anyone in harm's way.

“Right now, we just try to get as many masks out to those who need them,” Mahan said. “We are currently working with the Army and Marine Corps to get the mask out to those who need it, but we are also trying to get the Air Force to pick up on the project as well. One thing I didn't realize, until after I was already in the career field, is that the Air Force security forces do a lot of missions outside the wire and our Airmen are getting injured on these missions just like the other branches.”

Mahan is just happy he is making a difference, and he truly is. The family company has received several thank you letters from people in the field.

“It feels extremely humbling knowing God used us and our talents to create and develop this piece of armor that has saved lives,” he said. “We received our first email saying our mask saved someone's life. It was so surreal thinking someone is alive because of something we made in our basement. After that, as more and more masks were bought, the emails just kept coming in of faces and lives being saved.”

For some this level of success would have been sufficient, but Mahan wanted to do more while he still had the chance and at the age of 26, the Martinsville, Ind., native enlisted in September 2009.

“I thought it was my duty to serve my country,” he said with a sense of patriotism in his eyes. “This is a once in a life opportunity, and I wanted to do something before it was too late.”

After basic training and technical school, Mahan was assigned to the security forces squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

“I have no regrets about enlisting,” he said. “I have done a lot of things I would have never been able to do as a civilian. I appreciate everything the Air Force has offered me.”

Mahan is even enjoying his current assignment in Iraq. As part of the 407th ESFF at Ali Air Base, Iraq, he helps provide on-base security for Air Force resources and training for the Iraqi security forces.

“It isn't as exciting as I hoped my first deployment would be, but I know what we do is important,” he said. “Training the Iraqis to be able to secure their base and resources is really rewarding.”
Article and photo by USAF SSgt. Michael Longoria
U.S. Air Forces Central, Baghdad Media Outreach Team
Copyright 2011

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