JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- U.S. Army Spc. Ashley Saahir, Information Technology Specialist for the 688 Rapid Port Opening Element at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, is making it her mission to recruit volunteers for the Department of Defense's C.W. Bill Young Bone Marrow Program.
Named after the legislator who wrote the program into law, it is also known as the DoD Marrow Donner Program and Salute to Life, and was established to match potential donors to those thousands of patients with life-threatening diseases who are waiting for bone marrow transplants.
"I've always tried to help others," Saahir said. "I've recruited for blood drives, collected and distributed clothing to families in need and this just seemed like the right thing to do."
Each year, more than 12,000 people are diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, severe aplastic anemia, or other blood-based disease, where often the best or only treatment option available is a bone marrow transplant.
While family members are typically looked to first for an appropriate match, more than 70% of patients are unable to find a suitable match within their own family and require an unrelated stem cell donor and that's where the National Marrow Donor Registry comes into play.
"Registration for the program is quick and easy," Saahir explained. "There is a five-minute history questionnaire that must be completed by potential donors, then a simple cheek swab to collect DNA from the mouth, and that's it."
The DNA samples are sent to a laboratory in Rockville, Md. where they are tested and the results recorded into the registry.
Saahir has signed up 24 Soldiers in her current unit and says she is looking for more.
"I think it is a great mission she has chosen to take on," said U.S. Army Capt. Michael McCrary, Executive Officer for the 688th RPOE. "She approached [leadership] asking if she could take the lead in the initiative and we wholeheartedly agreed. It is a great example of Soldiers looking out for fellow Soldiers."
The program which works exclusively with military personnel and their dependents, DoD civilian employees, Reservists, and Coast Guard and National Guard members has been in operation since 1991.
"I would like to do this on a bigger scale," said Saahir. "It would be great to manage this program at the post or installation level."
Since its inception more than 800,000 individuals have joined the registry and more than 6,000 marrow and stem cell donations have been made.
"I've had people ask me what I get out of this, and why I do it," Saahir said. "This isn't about personal benefit, it's about paying it forward to those inside and outside our military community."
Service Members and DoD civilians can learn more and register online to become a bone marrow donor or start their own recruiting campaign by visiting the official Salute to Life website at https://www.salutetolife.org/joinus.html.