Written by: Dale Baker

man in army uniform

I spent 24 years in the Army and served all over the world. There were very few constant forms of comfort during my service, but my woobie was certainly one of them. I remember the poncho liner material was silky and kept me warm, plus it was lightweight and easy to carry. I remember seeing the Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind label on the material and wondering how people who are blind make products for the military.

man wearing glasses facing camera
Dale Baker – Army Veteran, IFB Solutions Employee

After my service, I toured Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, which is now called IFB Solutions. I was shocked to see a manufacturing operation that creates jobs for people who are blind by making things that I used in my Army days. I was amazed.

Today, I’m the distribution manager at IFB Solutions. It’s my job to ship out the Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie to our armed forces and most recently, private citizens who can buy a woobie on Amazon.

What’s a Woobie?

folded woobie with logoChances are, if you ask a member of the military about a woobie  they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. No one knows for sure where the nickname “woobie” came from. It’s a sophisticated, military grade poncho liner used for protection from the elements. Some say it provides comfort like a baby blanket. I am proud to say the Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie, manufactured by IFB Solutions, is made in the U.S.A. and provides jobs for people who are blind.

Brief History Lesson

The U.S. Army issued liner was introduced in 1962 for use by special forces in Vietnam. IFB Solutions has been making this durable product since 1991, exclusively for the army and marines. Now, we’re making the same product, matching the same military specs, and same quality, to shoppers on Amazon. Unlike a lot of knockoffs out there, this is authentic. It’s the same thing our soldiers and marines use, the only difference is the label.

Manufacturing with Meaning

man working with textile manufacturing machineryOur poncho liner has provided hundreds of jobs for people who are blind over the years at IFB Solutions. People who are blind or visually impaired face so many barriers to the workforce, whether it’s transportation or lack of education among employers who won’t hire people with disabilities for fear of liability or cost. In fact, 70% of the working age population who are blind are not employed. At IFB Solutions, our mission is to bring that statistic down. People who are blind from all over the country have relocated to work at IFB Solutions, a place where there are no barriers, just opportunities.

AbilityOne Program: Creating Jobs, Changing Lives

IFB Solutions, now 85 years old, began in a church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with only a few employees who were blind. Today, we have nearly 1,000 employees working all over the country in call centers, manufacturing operations,  Base Supply Centers, optical lab and more. We even have programs for kids who are blind.

We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make such a beloved product as the Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie and employ so many people who are blind if it wasn’t for the AbilityOne Program. There are more than 500 nonprofits, including IFB Solutions, that are under the AbilityOne umbrella. All of them provide opportunities for more than 45,000 people with disabilities in America. The AbilityOne Commission governs a procurement system that provides products and services for the federal government at a fair market price. At IFB Solutions, these products include office supplies, tactical gear, mattresses and more. Each product or service from IFB Solutions represents a life that has been changed thanks to training, upward mobility opportunities, and a diverse pool of jobs from which to choose.

Every day, I am moved by IFB Solutions employees who are blind. It is an inspiring place, and I am honored to play a role in a product like the Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie that gave me comfort during my service.