By: Madison Thompson
FORT KNOX, Ky. – Blood can be a squeamish topic for most people. For others, it is a part of their every day life. Blood is essential to the human body and serves many purposes. It is also essential for military personnel. The military has a special program called the Armed Services Blood Program. The people who work for the Armed Services Blood Program work with blood and patients on a daily basis.
The ASBP is an official provider of blood and blood products in the military as well as its branches such as the Army, Navy and the Air Force. I had the privilege of speaking with the Army Blood Program Deputy Director Lt. Col. Jason Corley. He answered some questions about ASBP and the program’s purpose.
How did you get started at the ASBP?
The Armed Services Blood Program. Initially, I came into the Army and became a laboratory officer and had the opportunity to deploy a few times and saw the importance of blood for our war fighters and wanted to build on that. There’s an opportunity through the Military to go to a Military Blood Banking Fellowship and become a Blood Bank Officer, so that’s how I’ve become involved with the Armed Services Blood Program. It’s truly a great program that shows how volunteers and selfless service can go benefit our warfighters and their families.
What does your job entail?
So, we oversee the Army Blood Program donor centers and transfusion services through the military and we ensure that there’s adequate blood supplies not only here in the US, but overseas and also for our deployed warfighters. So, that’s everything from managing logistics out of it to regulatory oversight. We have an awesome team that works within the Army Blood Program made up of military members, active and reserve components, civilian service members that truly do an outstanding job daily.
What is the Armed Services Blood Program?
The Armed Services Blood Program is a joint DOD (Department of Defense) agency. It’s made up of the three blood services blood programs, which are the Army, Navy and the Air Force. We work under the oversight of the Armed Services Blood Program office. Our basic mission is to make sure there’s blood available for our warfighters, whether that’s in peacetime or in wartime, and that that blood is available anywhere in the world that it needs to be for patient care.
I’ve heard the ASBP is like the American Red Cross. Is it like the American Red Cross? Is it not? Why?
As with any blood collection agency, our mission is to make sure that we’re collecting donors, but we’re very distinct from our civilian counterparts, rather that’s the American Red Cross or other civilian agencies. We’re distinct from that in that we’re a program that is devoted to the military services. So, the blood we collect is devoted totally for DOD use, whether that’s the warfighters who are deployed or their service families, overseas or not. So, the distinction there is that the civilian community, of course, has to support our community hospitals et cetera, but the Armed Services Blood Program is really there for the warfighter and his or her family.
What are some of the goals of the ASBP?
Some of the goals of the ASBP are, of course, to provide quality blood products and services for our patients. That’s making sure that we’re providing the highest quality standard of care no matter where in the world a service member might be. Also, to make sure that we have adequate supplies that, whenever that warfighter is deployed, they know that there’s going to be enough blood on hand to treat whatever their wound might be. It’s also to make sure that we’re taking care of our Garrison MTF’s (Medical Treatment Facilities) to make sure that they’re all adequately supplied. And to do all of this in a teamwork frame of mind and to work across the services well so that we’re coordinating well with our Navy and Air Force counterparts.
How much do you have to raise? What would you like to raise? Do you have specific quotas that you have to meet?
So, for specific number of donors that we would like to collect, we certainly do have target marks that we’re always needing to achieve to make sure that we have adequate supplies. But, really, the point we want to get across to our donors is that we always need donors. No matter what your blood type is, we always will always will gladly accept a selfless donation from one of our blood donors. We do have weekly requirements for blood and blood products that we send do overseas to support deployed service members. We also have requirements at our CONUS (Continental United States) based MTF’s to make sure they have adequate supplies of blood. For CST here, this summer, with the blood drives that we’ll run from June through August, we do have a goal of 4000 units of blood collected. We believe that is absolutely attainable given the awesome support of Cadet Leadership here, the local Garrison and, of course, the awesome support from the Cadets. So, we absolutely think it’s achievable.
Outside of CST, how frequently does the ASBP hold blood drives?
So, the ASBP, wherever there’s a military donor center, within that area surrounding the donor center we do blood drives. Now, here specifically on Fort Knox, we’re primarily here during the summer months whenever the Cadets are here for their CST training.
How frequently do military personnel have to donate blood?
You can only donate, whether it’s military or civilian, you’re only allowed to donate every 56 days. That’s a mandate by the Food and Drug Administration that you’re only allowed to donate products every 56 days and that’s whether you’re in the military or donating to a civilian agency.
Can civilians donate?
Absolutely. Whenever the Armed Services Blood Program conducts a blood drive, we have to be on federal property. But if a civilian is on base or on that fort, wherever it may be, and they can make it to the blood drive, we absolutely can accept a civilian donation. So, if for some reason during one of our CST blood drives, there were civilians that happened to be on post, they just need a valid form of ID and we would gladly accept their support.
What is the process if a civilian wants to donate?
The actual donation process is very similar to what you would see in any of the civilian organizations in a sense that you would have to present a personal ID to make sure we can verify your identity, go through a mini physical, a mini history questionnaire, and then you would go through the donation process. But if a civilian is just interested in seeing if they can donate and where those donation opportunities might be, they can go onto our website, which is www.militaryblood.dod.mil, and they can click on a map and it’ll show you where all of the donor centers are and it’ll provide POC’s that they can call to find out, maybe in their particular area, where a ASBP drive might be held.
What is the process of storing the blood once it’s been received?
So, upon collection, we’re going to make sure the blood product starts to cool down and keep it in a cooler type of environment until we can then ship it back to the donor center, who is processing those units, and from there on, basically, the blood products will be kept either refrigerated at standard blood refrigerator temperatures, one-to-six degrees centigrade, or it can be frozen depending upon what product what we’re making. That’s pretty much a standard process, whether it’s civilian or military blood processing.
Does the blood ever expire? If it’s frozen?
It can depending on the product that you make. It might be good for one year depending upon the blood product or it could be good for ten years. It just depends on the type of product you decide to make from there. A typical whole blood donation, which is what we’ll be focusing on here at CST this summer, upon donation, the blood product that we’re primarily making from them is red blood cells and those will be good for 42 days. So, it has a 42 day shelf life. After that, if not used, it would then expire; but we try very hard to make sure that we put it at a facility or a medical treatment unit that’ll use the product. I just bring that up because it goes to show you that you need a constant resupply of product and you constantly need that selfless service from the donors to come back in every 56 days so they can replenish the products.
What are some of the conditions that would prevent someone from giving blood?
So, there are some deferral criteria predominately what we think of in the military are travel deferrals. So, certain countries that a person may have been assigned to or maybe deployed to or maybe they just took a trip there for a short duration (TDY) or vacation, depending on where that could be you might be deferred anywhere from one year or possibly a permanent deferral. There’s also certain medical conditions that could defer a donor. Certain medications, though few in number, there are some medications that could defer a donor. Predominately here at CST, we have relatively low deferral rates. It’s a younger population of donors that have not entered into the active duty service yet. So it’s a lower number of travel deferrals and also a healthy population that we’re drawing from. If there’s ever any questions about deferral criteria, again, they can go back to the website at www.militaryblood.dod.mil and there’s a link on becoming a blood donor that lists out possible reasons that you could get deferred. But I would say to anyone who’s interested in donating blood, if you have any questions about that, you can call the Point Of Contact for a donor center and they can help you walk through what might or might not be a deferral. Even if you are deferred for a valid reason, you can still contribute to the Armed Services Blood Program by just helping spread the word about what we do and maybe encouraging others to donate. So, even if you’re deferred, you can still help out the Armed Services Blood Program.
Where and who do these blood donations go to?
The donated products we’ll ship. Some will go overseas to support operations and US Central Command, US Africom, the different combatted commands have blood requirements for their deployed forces, and then we’ll ship them to our military medical treatment facilities, our Garrison medical treatment facilities, an example of those could be Walter Reed military medical center in Washington, D.C.. It could go to San Antonio military medical center in Texas. Naval Hospital San Diego is an example of an MTF that we would normally supply with blood and blood products.
Is there a collaboration between the ASBP and outside organizations?
Absolutely, at a lot of different levels. So, at the community-based level, any of our ASBP donor centers are always collaborating with our civilian counterparts because we want to have a teamwork effort. We want to make sure that we all have visibility on each others’ blood drives and that we’re maximizing donor opportunities. At a higher level, an operational level, there’s always resource sharing. So, even though there’s distinct donations that you may donate to like the ASBP or maybe to the American Red Cross, anytime there’s an emergency or an extreme time of need, we’re always going to cross level and share if that extreme need arises. So we would donate to the Red Cross or vise versa if there were an extreme emergency. Then, at a higher level, lost of collaboration between ASBP and our civilian blood agencies and regulatory bodies because, as a team, we want to make sure that we’re making policies and procedures that, overall, produce a safer and a better product for our patients. So there’s collaboration all up and down the chain, whether they’re at the higher levels or at the community levels. Lots of collaboration.
What are some of the precautions that are taken?
When you arrive for donation, you will go through a medical history screening, an abbreviated questionnaire and that should help to identify any medical causes for deferral. You’ll also have a very brief, what we refer to as, a mini physical. They’ll take your pulse, BP, weight and we’ll also check your hemoglobin that day to ensure that you qualify for donation. Any donor that is interested in donating should always make sure that, upon showing up, that they’ve eaten and that they’re well hydrated. Through the donation process here at CST, we’ll have adequate fluids available so they can continue to hydrate. Then during the donor recovery period, we’ll make sure that we have snacks and fluids available to continue to hydrate. I would say if there’s one thing that we could emphasize to any perspective donor, be it here at CST or anywhere, is to hydrate hydrate hydrate. Try to show up and make sure you’ve had a good meal. Most people experience no adverse events from the blood donation.
If someone starts to have a bad reaction to giving blood, what happens then?
We have excellent, trained staff who are on hand. All of our donor center staff members have received training in how to react to donor reactions. So, steps will be gone through to make sure that we initially treat and care for the donor. After that, there will be follow up care as dictated by the reaction that occurred. Overall, the number of reactions is typically very mild. There’s very few that have severe reactions. But again, we have trained staff on hand and supplies to react to that if an event like that were to occur.
In his closing thoughts, Corley wanted to convey his gratitude to all of Fort Knox.
“We would like to say thank you to the Cadets who will be here this summer. We want to say thank you to the Cadet Command leadership, to the Fort Knox Community Garrison Command and to the local hospital command. We truly appreciate the opportunity for the Armed Services Blood Program to be here and to have this opportunity to collect and interact and educate these Cadets on what the Armed Services Blood Program does on a daily basis. Again, we can’t emphasize enough. Thank you. The message to convey to the donors is that the blood that you’re donating will truly benefit the military. Thank you for donating and what you’re doing is important and please spread the word about the Armed Services Blood Program and encourage others to donate.