Soldiers from Army Reserve blood detachment units mobilize annually to provide skilled medical support to Armed Services Blood Program donor sites in the U.S. and abroad.
Established in 1952, the Armed Services Blood Program serves as the primary provider of blood for the U.S. military. As a tri-service organization, the ASBP collects, processes, stores, and distributes blood and blood products to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and their families worldwide.
Current research suggests that plasma donated from individuals recovered from the COVID-19 virus contains anti-bodies that may help current coronavirus patients recover faster. This makes the mission of the ASBP even more critical as they enter the fight to assist those infected with COVID-19.
Sgt. Julie Wolf and Sgt. Cindy Gabel are two of approximately 95 AR-MEDCOM Soldiers that have mobilized this year.
Wolf, a 68K medical laboratory specialist from Miami, has been serving at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany since June. Traditionally a member of the 7229th Medical Support Unit based in Nashville, Tennessee, Wolf also serves as a lab technician in her civilian capacity. She is employed by Tennova ER in Clarksville, Tennessee and Jennie Stuart Medical Center in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, when not serving her nation in the Army Reserve.
“We collect blood by the military for the military,” stated Wolf, explaining that most of the blood in the program comes from service members, retirees and family members. “Our biggest areas of concern are U. S. European Command, U. S. Africa Command and U. S. Special Operations Command. We supply all the blood that goes to AFRICOM, because our blood is regulated by the FDA. In AFRICOM, that’s the only approved blood supply the U. S. military can use.”
Wolf enjoys working in a joint environment with Navy and Air Force active duty servicemembers alongside the five other Army Reserve Medical Command Soldiers serving with her in Landstuhl.
“Even on the roughest days, if you take a step back and think about what you are doing, you will feel the fulfillment of the mission,” says Wolf.
Sgt. Cindy Gabel is employed by the Bureau of Land Management and teaches Pilates in her home studio in Billings, Montana. In her Army Reserve career, she is a 68P, radiology technician that cross trained to mobilize to the Joint Base San Antonio Blood Donor Center in Texas.
Eager for one more opportunity to serve her nation before her retirement, Gabel volunteered for the mission. Her responsibilities include meeting with the potential donors as one of the first steps in the donation process. All blood donation centers must consider travel, medications, diseases, and high-risk behaviors when screening potential blood donors.
Gabel loves talking to people and learning about them. “I get to hear all these different stories from people, including older people my age that are just about ready to retire. It’s just amazing and I really like it.”
“Some of the younger Soldiers, the students, (those going through initial military training), get a little nervous about donating,” shared Gabel. “I think that just me talking to them and distracting them, helps them settle down a little bit more.”
In general, blood donations are down from last year due to travel restrictions and COVID-19 concerns. Service members on teams that would normally go from installation to installation to collect the blood, are traveling less. Some blood donor centers have yet to send their teams off base to collect blood.
Blood donor recruiters like Stacy Sanning at the Armed Services Blood Program – Europe, in Landstuhl, Germany, work hard to adjust processes to encourage donors to still donate.
“Although not currently able to conduct our normally scheduled blood drives in the United Kingdom, Italy, or Belgium with the current travel restrictions, we have increased mobile blood drives throughout Germany,” says Sanning. “Sgt. Wolf and the team travel to Stuttgart, Bavaria, Wiesbaden, and all around the Kaiserslautern Military Community which is the largest U.S. military community overseas.”
Sanning also highlighted that more servicemembers can now donate, due to a recent change in policy.
“Newly relaxed FDA blood donor eligibility means many more can donate blood for the military, including those previously excluded, based on time spent living in Europe.” So even those who have lived overseas for more than five years can donate.
All the blood the Armed Services Blood Program – Europe collects goes on to forward-deployed military and the patients in military hospitals around the world.
“Just one battlefield trauma can require all the blood collected from a single blood drive, so every drop counts,” said Sanning.
As Wolf draws blood from individual donors, she often stresses to them how important the mission of blood donation is by sharing the fact that “these bags of blood go to real human beings in their most desperate moment of need.”
Wolf added final thought on her mission. “For me, there is really not anything as fulfilling as this mission. The blood we collect, the blood we ship, the blood we produce, goes to people who need it.”