PHOENIX, Ariz. — Mark Lindquist was just looking for a way to help.

The former staff sergeant and Air Force veteran, known in North Dakota for singing the national anthem at University of North Dakota hockey games for many years and now known across the country for his performances and motivational speaking, was trying to figure out a way to ensure North Dakota hospitals and veterans clinics in Arizona had enough N95 respirator masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I've never lived through a time in my life in these 38 years where we needed more help than we do now,” Lindquist said in a phone interview Wednesday, March 25.

A series of Google searches, which included searching for the materials used to make the masks, eventually led him to a government surplus contractor that was auctioning off the masks, including ones that had been expired for nearly 10 years. The winning bid was for $26,000 per pallet, or about $3.50 per mask. Lindquist said it was enough for him to say, “that doesn't seem right.”

“I think just as a matter of being a citizen of the United States of America and a person who cares what happens to our wonderful country, I asked some questions,” Lindquist said.

So, he gathered screenshots and did more research. Then, he reached out to reporters across the country and eventually connected with Bill Dedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and investigative reporter for Newsday. The two continued to ask more questions, doing more research and eventually rolled out a story, through Twitter, outlining what they learned.

They learned that a government surplus property auction site called GovPlanet was selling the expired box of masks with bids coming in across the country. The auction site, which is a legal way for the government to sell surplus supplies, later apologized for the incident, saying it would work "to identify needed medical supplies and get them in the hands of frontline workers."

"Unfortunately, some items were missed in an earlier review of thousands of items and for that we would like to apologize,” the website said in a statement to Dedman. “Be assured GovPlanet is doing everything it can to assist in the fight against COVID-19."

The auctions for the items have since been removed from the sites.

Lindquist said the story is beginning to gain traction around the country, noting that it’s also gained the attention of CEOs of major companies that are against price gouging. Lindquist said his experience should show people that “this is the time to be the most civically engaged” as they can be, and asking the hard questions of their government.

“I would like Americans to know that they can do more,” Lindquist said. “I would like Americans to know that they have the ability to engage with their government. They have the ability to engage with the press, they have the ability to enact change, because I'm a 38-year-old high school graduate, who is unemployed now because the live events industry in our country is different now, who said ‘maybe I could make a difference.’ And in quarantine, I think every American could do just that."

Lindquist wants to launch a social media campaign called #ForItaly to show support for Italy, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. Lindquist said it’s likely things will get worse before they get better in the U.S.

America will be needing support, too.

“America is going to need the world’s help soon,” Lindquist said. “I think it's going to be a hard time in America in 2020. And I think we're going to need help and friends around the world when we are suffering in our time of greatest need.”

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