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Military members are 'blood brothers and sisters' in more ways than one

Since 1962, the Armed Services Blood Program has served as the sole provider of blood for the United States 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tenley Long) Since 1962, the Armed Services Blood Program has served as the sole provider of blood for the United States 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tenley Long)

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Armed Services Blood Program

Service members who develop close bonds call themselves blood brothers and sisters. But the term’s also literal, because the military takes care of its own for the body’s essential fluid. The Armed Services Blood Program, or ASBP, is the only provider of blood and blood products for the military community.

“No matter what service you are, you’ll receive blood from the ASBP in peacetime and in war,” said Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, the program’s director. “We go wherever our warfighters go, and we also support military members and their families at home.”

Before the ASBP was established in 1952, the military relied on the American Red Cross for blood and blood products. A decade later, the ASBP became a fully operational and distinct program. The U.S. Army Surgeon General’s Office has served as executive agent; on August 20, responsibility shifts to the Defense Health Agency.

“We’re a joint combat support agency, so it’s the right fit for us to be at DHA,” Fahie said. “We look forward to continuing our role here.”

Like the other U.S. blood collection organizations, the ASBP follows Food and Drug Administration guidelines as it collects, tests, processes, stores, ships, and distributes blood and blood products to support the military community. The mission represents a huge logistical feat, especially since blood is perishable.

About 120,000 units of blood are collected annually at 17 U.S. and three international donor centers, Fahie said. A unit equals about 1 pint; a trauma victim may need the transfusion of 10 or more units of blood.

The ASBP sends blood to about 61 Department of Defense medical facilities, mainly hospitals, for scheduled and emergency procedures. Blood also goes to theaters of operation, including allied and coalition hospitals and U.S. Navy ships. Even first responders carry it onto the battlefield.

“We’re making sure we get the blood closest to the point of injury,” Fahie said, adding this can be particularly challenging during operations in remote locations.

Another challenge, Fahie said, is making sure the military’s blood supply is sufficient and safe.

“The folks who work at the centers are bringing people through the doors to make sure we can meet our mission,” Fahie said. “The simple act of donating blood can make the difference between life and death. We never lose sight of how precious blood is.”

Fahie noted that in the early 2000s, the FDA banned blood donations from service members and their dependents who lived in Europe for six months or more during certain periods because of potential exposure to mad cow disease. “That’s still a tough restriction for us,” Fahie said. “You never know what infectious diseases could impact the donor pool. It can make things difficult when we lose potential donors.”

The Ebola and Zika viruses also have affected the donor pool, Fahie said. “What’s next? We always have to be prepared to test for new infectious diseases, and we’re investing in technology to help us do that.”

The ASBP works with the America’s Blood Centers, American Red Cross, and other national blood organizations during natural disasters and other crises, and provides humanitarian and disaster relief assistance overseas.

“We also do a lot of capacity building,” Fahie said. “It includes sending our people to partner nations to help with technical assistance, training, writing national policy for blood collection and testing, and assisting with the design of blood collection and testing facilities, and then monitoring construction with the Army Corps of Engineers. Capacity building is a win-win.”

For more information and to learn how you can donate, visit the Armed Services Blood Program.

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