Military Blood Program

by Staff Sgt. Christopher Carney,  Staff Sgt. Michael Sweet – 367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Whitehall, OHIO – Because of a special program, blood that was collected in central Ohio Oct. 15 soon will be delivered into the hands of combat medics treating troops in Afghanistan.

Caring volunteers of local communities and organizers of the Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP) gathered at the 83rd Infantry Division Memorial Army Reserve Center, where 61 pints of blood was drawn and stored. Soon the special cargo will be sent special delivery to help deployed troops thousands of miles away.

(Pictured Above) Just completing a 24 hour shift, Columbus fire fighter, Jonathan Hill, donates blood at the at the Armed Services Blood Program at the 83rd Infantry Division Memorial Army Reserve Center on October 15, 2011.  This was Hill’s third time he donated blood to the program that allows civilians the chance to donate blood that will used by combat troops overseas.

Fitted  with high-gauge needles, roll away gurneys and phlebotomists from Wright Patterson Air Base, the Reserve hall took on the qualities of an efficient blood center as retired military members, college students, fire fighters and others waited their turn to give more.

Carl Land, a World War II combat veteran who served with the 104th Infantry Division in Germany, donated blood only through the Red Cross before learning of the blood for troops program a couple of years ago.

“This is my sixth or seventh time here, but I gave 18 gallons to the Red Cross before I could give blood here,” said Land, 85.  “I know what it means to need blood.  I was not wounded, but I lost some good friends and soldiers should not have to worry if the medics have blood if they are wounded.”

The first ASBP blood drive opened to the public took place in 2007 in Columbus, Ohio. Since then, nearly 2,000 pints have been collected in central Ohio.

In that vein, the ASBP is the only agency in the United States that collects and distributes blood products exclusively for the military. It has 22 centers that primarily collect blood from military members to supply the needs of the military.

Civilian participation is an important part of this unique effort, which is a joint endeavor between the Armed Forces Blood Program center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Army Reserve and the 12th District Council of the American Legion.

“My brother told me that the Army has to buy blood from the Red Cross,” said Jonathan Hill, a Columbus firefighter. “I just thought: If you guys [the military] needed blood, you just got it.”

Just off of a 24-hour shift and still in his firefighter uniform, Hill pumped a little rubber ball in his hand to help keep the blood flowing into a sterile plastic bag set under his gurney. 

“Wounded soldiers shouldn’t have to buy blood, they pay for it with their lives every day,” Hill said.

Many of the donors this day are civilians but had different occupations at one time.  Covering gray and balding heads, balls caps denoting military service in past wars, and service on Navy ships, for example, provide a quick history of the donors waiting in line.

Because of health issues, prior deployments and former overseas duty stations, about 45 percent of active military members do not qualify to give blood. That’s fact is primary reason AFSP organizers allow civilians a chance to participate, thus helping add to the blood stock needed overseas.

“This is one of the few places in the country where the general public can come in and donate to the military,” said Peter Margaritis, commander of the 12th District Council of the American Legion. “Under the old Department of Defense policy, even veterans could not donate blood directly for use by the troops.”

Today, the AFBP center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio is responsible for the eastern Midwest part of the country. A blood donor team from the 88th Medical Group assists in the program.

 “We travel in a three to 400 mile radius around Wright-Patterson, up to 21 times a month and collect about 600 units a month to ship overseas,” said Staff Sgt. Josephine Roopnarine, donor center noncommissioned officer-in-charge, 88th Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron, 88th Medical Group.

One unit of blood is equal to one pint. At least two blood derivatives can be obtained from each unit of blood, includes platelets, so one pint has the potential to save three lives, according to Roopnarine.

“The donor centers are still active. The need is still there, we still need the blood,” Roopnarine said.

Veterans and civil servants were not the only ones in attendance. Concerned citizens and family members of service members also lined up to donate blood that would head directly to the battlefield.

“My nephew just got back from Afghanistan,” said Jane Kelly, wearing a red USMC t-shirt. “And my son and her boyfriend,” pointing to the woman on the next gurney wearing a pink hoodie with the Marine Corps logo, “go to boot camp in January.”

Kelly, like many of the donors return regularly to help keep the blood supplies healthy in the war-zones, and some even build friendships with the friendly technicians from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base who usually work the event.

“You had me last time,” said Alanna Toney, an Ohio State University psychology major, to the smiling Prudence Mundy, a civilian phlebotomist with the 88th Medical Group at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. “Last time I passed out, but this time I am drinking my juice.”

At the end of the day, the 61 pints were boxed up and loaded so they could be transported to Wright-Patterson, where in a few days the load would later be flown to an Air Force base in New Jersey for shipment to Afghanistan.

But, the hard work was done already.

“We had a good turnout today,” said Margaritis. “They are giving something that literally comes from the heart, the gift of blood.”

Staff Sgt. Christopher Carney and Staff Sgt. Michael Sweet are members of the 367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. 

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