News: ‘Blood Brothers’: Joint unit sends blood down range
Story by Airman 1st Class Dennis Sloan
MCGUIRE, N.J. - Deployed warfighters have a 99.5 percent survival rate after sustaining a critical injury if they reach a trauma-care facility that has blood transfusion capabilities.
The Armed Services Whole Blood Processing Laboratory East service members send more than 1,200 units of blood to 32 DOD and coalition medical treatment facilities throughout U.S. Central Command.
They process, store, test and package blood for shipment. The blood is vital not only to warfighters, but also DOD medical beneficiaries throughout U.S. Africa Command and U.S. European Command.
“We are the life line of the armed services,” said Maj. Jerome Vinluan, ASWBPL-East director. “Our team has a hand in saving lives and ensuring that those who are wounded while defending our country come back home to their loved ones.”
The unit comprises soldiers, sailors and airmen who work day and night, rain or shine to make sure they don’t lose a drop of blood.
“Blood is a critical joint asset,” said Vinluan. “We do not get holidays, snow days or even down days the majority of the year due to our mission.”
The ASWBPL-East is one of only two blood-processing laboratories in the U.S. that ships blood worldwide. The other, ASWBPL-West, is located at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
“We are larger and busier than our sister facility, currently supplying all the blood sent into theatre,” said Vinluan.
The service members at ASWBPL-East sent approximately 75,000 units of blood into the AOR last year.
“Our tempo currently ranges from 1,200 to 1,300 units of blood a week,” said Tech. Sgt. Ursula Widener, ASWBPL-East laboratory technician. “Our tempo was much higher in with 2007 and 2008 the two major operations in full swing. We would send anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 units a week.”
The team of trained laboratory technicians has not lost a single drop of blood received from any of the 24 blood banks across the country in the past four years. They follow stringent federal and regulatory standards when shipping or receiving blood.
“The last shipment of blood we lost was in 2008,” said Vinluan. “Aircraft were grounded due to weather complications, which allowed the blood being shipped to reach a temperature of more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Once the blood reaches the laboratory it is unpackaged and its temperature is recorded to ensure it is at or below 10 degrees.
“If the temperature of the blood we receive or ship ever rises above the 10 degrees, it must be thrown out,” said Spc. Lindsay Lansberry, ASWBPL-East laboratory technician.
One critical responsibility of the ASWBPL-East team is to test and confirm that all blood products are labeled properly with the correct blood types.
“If a service member receives the wrong type of blood they will die instantly,” said Widener. “The testing process may be tedious, but it is very important.”
After the blood is temperature-controlled and tested, it is packaged once again in a specialized plastic foam box with ice then placed in a cardboard box.
“Our team provides the last line of safety before the blood units are transfused,” said Sgt. 1st Class Lavon Harbor, ASWBPL-East non-commissioned officer in charge. “This critical process is timeless and has been used since the sixties.”
The ASWBPL-East has an enduring mission because liquid blood only has a 42-day shelf life. The blood is taken to the flightline to be loaded on a 747 aircraft, which has a dedicated mission of transporting blood into the AOR at least twice a week.
Not losing a single drop of blood over the past four years is not the only impressive feat the unit has accomplished. The unit responded to an emergency call from Afghanistan. A rocket propelled grenade struck the blood bank in Afghanistan destroying all blood stored within the facility.
“Our unit sprung into action when we received word of the attack. We packaged as much blood as we possibly could and then sending it downrange,” said Vinluan.
The blood bank-halfway across the world was fully replenished within 48 hours.
More than $1.5 million of equipment is used to store, test and ship blood from the ASWBPL-East facility into theater. The facility stores more than $750,000 worth of blood at any given time.
“No major war or conflict can occur until the four Bs are in place – bombs, bullets, beans and blood,” said Vinluan.
Each laboratory technician who works at the facility receives the same specialized war-time training to work at an ASWBPL.
“It truly is an honor to work stateside and still have a direct impact on the war effort,” said Tech. Sgt. Shane Sayer, ASWBPL-East laboratory technician. “This is a lot of hard work and long hours, but when the job is this important, it’s worth it.”
The joint unit has been around since 1967 and has supported several major conflicts and humanitarian relief efforts since.
“ASWBPL-East was ‘joint’ before the trend of joint basing,” said Vinluan. “Our team is truly integrated and all our parts are interchangeable. I’m proud of our team; as we’ve overcome service rivalries and cultural services barriers to form one cohesive team. We’re like blood brothers.”