TIKRIT, Iraq – For nearly 25 years, the Department of Defense has championed bone marrow registration through the C.W. Bill Young DoD Marrow Donor Program to assist thousands of people searching for bone marrow.
The Soldiers of 209th Aviation Support Battalion, Task Force Lobos, led TF Wings’ efforts, registering 2,050 people at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq, from June 22 - 26.
Staff Sgt. Brian Cashell, Company B, 209th ASB, TF Lobos, of Cincinnati, Ohio, spearheaded the week-long, all-volunteer initiative as he has done previously in Hawaii. Cashell oversaw a blood drive and bone marrow registration drive at Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, with nearly 1,500 people registering. He discussed his desire to continue helping others.
“I read a quote a long time ago that I liked [by Albert Pike]; ‘What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others in the world remains and is immortal.’ I’ve always liked that and I realized this is something that should be ongoing.”
Having held a successful bone marrow drive in Hawaii, Cashell knew he’d need a new pool of potential donors to be successful.
“I realized I pretty much dried up the well within this brigade last year. So we found a new pool with 3rd ID and all the civilians here. Instead of trying to do it one more time back in Hawaii and get fewer numbers, I figured I’d expose more people to it and educate them about the [C.W. Bill Young DoD Marrow Donor Program]. A lot of people didn’t know what it was about or what was going on. This way we’ve enlightened more people about the need for bone marrow donors.”
The Soldiers of TF Lobos supported the initiative with Company A, Company B, and Company C, all providing personnel. The unit’s determination to exceed their 2,000-person registration goal meant using multiple locations throughout COB Speicher to include the dining facilities and the main Post Exchange. Their presence motivated other Soldiers to register, including Pfc. Tiffany Gordon.
“[I registered] because I enjoy giving back,” said Pfc. Gordon, a legal specialist and native of New York City, N.Y., with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade. “I like to do things to help other people, especially children.”
She continued, “I felt good. I was nervous at first because I heard the [actual marrow transplant] procedure is painful. But I like to give back and any [discomfort] would be worth it if somebody else could live because of me.”
According to Cashell the registration and selection process is simple, and quite painless. After four “cheek” swabs, each individual is registered as a potential volunteer marrow donor. Each participant’s tissue type is then determined and entered into the DoD and other national registries. Once registered, marrow transplant medical teams throughout the U.S. and the world can search the registries to determine if your HLA type matches the HLA type of a patient who needs a transplant.
Cashell hopes the bone marrow registration continues and made a compelling point for continuing the program even after he departs TF Wings.
“I think the statistics are for every 300 people that register, one of them will be a match. So between our last two drives, we’ve gotten over 3,000 people to register. So we’ve [potentially] got at least 10 matches right there off the bat. The only downside to this is once you register, you’re in the system and don’t need to be re-registered, making it harder to [get donor volunteers from the same population] , unlike blood drives where the same volunteer can give more than once.”
With the support of every echelon of his chain of command, Cashell and his team were able to achieve their goal of at least 2,000 registrations.
“Everybody was very supportive of the program and it worked out well. I’m very glad people came out and actually supported us. [And a special thanks to] all of the volunteers that helped me out, giving up their personal time. This is something that everyone should take on so it spreads throughout the Army. [Hopefully,] we can get a majority of the DoD registered.”
Those interested in participating in the C.W. Bill Young DoD Marrow Donor Program can contact 1-800-MARROW-3 (1-800-627-7693) for a program overview, additional details of the registration process and numerous donor drive schedules.