Military, Civilian Blood Donors Provide ‘Gift of Life’

Story by Terri Moon Cronk, American Forces Press Service
Edited by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity

Armed Services Blood Program courtesy photo

Armed Services Blood Program courtesy photo

January is National Blood Donor Month and Defense Department employees are encouraged to “roll up their sleeves and give the gift of life,” said Air Force Col. Richard McBride, Armed Services Blood Program director.

The program is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, with “60 Years of Donors — We Thank You,” as its theme, McBride said.

The program coordinates support between the military services and the combatant commands to ensure sufficient blood products and services exist wherever troops serve, McBride explained.

The blood program is a tri-service effort involving the Army, Navy and Air Force, he said.

“Without the three services’ support, we wouldn’t have a military program,” McBride said.

The military’s blood program began during the late 1940s, when organizations such as the Red Cross supplied blood to wounded warriors during World War II, he said.

“We realized we needed a program to support the military,” McBride said. “As the population increased, it became more difficult to support the civilian and military [sectors]. The military began its own blood program so civilian blood supplies would not be compromised.”

In the past 60 years, blood donors have helped save wounded warriors in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn, McBride said.

Both civilian and military programs comply with the same federal regulations, test for infectious diseases and process, manufacture, store and distribute blood wherever it’s needed. DOD has the added mission of supporting wounded warriors and DOD beneficiaries worldwide, McBride said.

“If there’s a doctor and a nurse [who] need blood, it’s our responsibility to make sure they have it,” he said. “We have a tremendous record and now have the highest survival rate in the history of modern American warfare, which is a testament to the impact our blood program has had in bringing wounded warriors back to their loved ones.”

And 2012 was one of the program’s most successful years in the history of military medicine, he said.

“Approximately 150,000 units of blood were collected,” McBride said. “That’s a record.”

The need for blood at military hospitals around the world always exists, he said.

Potential donors must be at least 17 years old and free of medical conditions or diseases that would prevent them from donating, McBride said, adding that donors can contribute blood every 56 days. Blood is perishable and only considered safe to use at a maximum of 42 days by law, he added.

McBride offers a good reason to donate blood to those who are unsure.

“If you have anyone who’s a wounded warrior, a loved one, or anyone who’s been in the military and has received medical care, that blood comes from people like you,” he said.

For people who cannot donate blood, volunteers always are needed to help advertise blood drives, and to take care of donors before and after their blood is drawn, McBride said.

“We always need people in leadership positions to encourage troops to go out and donate,” he said.

McBride says some donors have contributed blood for years.

“We call them our ‘gallon donators,’” he said.

McBride told about a young Army lieutenant who recently received more than 500 units of blood from his point of injury through his recuperation and convalescence.

“That’s a tremendous testament to the impact blood has had on wounded warriors,” McBride said. “It’s not just the blood — it was the dedicated service of the doctors, nurses and medics who helped him, but we’d like to think those 500 units played a big role.”

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