Blood donations still in high demand

Capt. Eric Badger
379th Air Expeditionary Wing
Public Affairs

***image1***SOUTHWEST ASIA – The U.S. military always needs blood in war zones and
now, more than ever, it is depending on non-deployed troops to donate.

That is because troops that deploy “down range” cannot donate blood for
one year after they return home, said Maj. Julie Zwies, officer in
charge of the Expeditionary Blood Transshipment Center here.

Maj. David Lincoln, a Joint Blood Program officer at the base, said donations must continue.

“Every time you give, you could be saving the life of a fellow Airman,
Soldier, Marine, Sailor or coalition partner. Every donation counts,”
said Major Lincoln, deployed here from Elmendorf Air Force Base,

The transshipment center is the hub for all blood distributed to
medical units throughout the region. Major Zwies, also the 379th
Expeditionary Medical Group’s support flight commander, said blood
comes from donors at military bases throughout the United States.

Before shipping to forward bases, members of the Armed Services Whole
Blood Processing Laboratory-East – at McGuire AFB, N.J. – first process
the blood. Then, C-17 Globemaster III or commercial cargo aircraft
transport it here.

The center then distributes it each week to all the forward-deployed
locations throughout the Southwest Asia theater. The amount of blood
each location receives varies each week, depending on need.

“We can get blood processed and loaded on a jet and on its way in two
and a half to three hours,” Major Lincoln, said. “Much like a traffic
cop, I ensure Major Zwies has the right of way as she gets the blood to
where it’s needed most.”

To prepare the life-saving fluid for the trip, Airmen pack the blood in
standard blood shipping boxes, known as a Collins box. The boxes also
hold about 14 pounds of ice.

“Red blood cells can’t be frozen, so wet ice is used to keep it cold
during shipment,” said Major Zwies, deployed from Davis-Monthan AFB,
Ariz. “However, fresh frozen plasma and cryoprecipitate are preserved
frozen and shipped with dry ice to keep it frozen. Blood is an
officially licensed pharmaceutical product and is handled with extreme

Due to the unpredictability of the need for blood, transportation into the theater is on a case-by-case basis.

“We use aircraft of opportunity,” Major Lincoln said. “We send blood by
C-130s, Chinooks (helicopters), ships or convoys. Any way we can get it
there – we make sure it happens. Lives depend on it.”

Major Lincoln said the Air Force handles the strategic airlift portion. The Army takes care of ground shipments.

The center stores red blood cells, fresh frozen plasma and
cryoprecipitate. When first drawn from a donor, whole blood contains
each of these elements.
To separate the elements, the blood goes through a process called
centrifugation. The centrifuge spins the blood, which separates the
Depending on the need, a patient may only require one of the elements.
For example, cryoprecipitate is primarily for patients with
blood-clotting difficulties.

“The blood arrives to us already split into these separate elements,” Major Zwies said.

“We track it, pack it and send it off as fast as we can to wherever our forces and coalition partners need it.”

The center stores the red blood cell units in a walk-in refrigerator
kept at approximately 1 to 6 degrees Celsius. There are also three
large chest freezers that hold plasma and cryoprecipitate. The
temperature in the chest freezers is at a constant negative 70 degrees

Before shipment to bases in the theater, the center scans and logs each
blood into its computer database. This is much like items scanned by a
cashier at a local grocery store, Major Zwies said.

This provides a tracking system for the blood to ensure it arrives to
its correct destination, while maintaining the center’s inventory

The need for blood will continue to grow with each passing year, as the pool of military donors shrinks, the major said.

“Many deployed members will be ineligible to donate for up to a year
upon return from their deployment,” she said. “Many people think the
next person will donate, so they don’t worry about it. What we want
people to remember is that everybody needs blood. The need will never

That is a big reason military donors stationed at continental U.S. bases must now give more than ever, Major Lincoln said.

“This is about military helping military,” he said.

More information on the Armed Services Blood Program is available at: