FORT BLISS, Texas -- It takes enormous support to sustain military operations across the globe, from coordinating manpower requirements and transportation to fulfilling supply needs to complete the mission.

Despite austere environments, whether it's for combat or humanitarian missions, one group of soldiers are at the ready providing support for one of the most essential elements of the fight and of life: blood.

In celebration of Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, April 23 to 29, soldiers with the 440th Medical Detachment here are sharing their experience with supporting theater operations with hundreds, sometimes thousands of units of blood in support of combat and humanitarian missions.

"The mission is to support emergency medical care, intensive care and operating rooms downrange," said Army Maj. Elaine Morrison, the commander of the 440th Medical Detachment. "We do everything from receiving specimens, conducting labs prior to surgical procedures as well as monitoring ongoing intensive care patients."

Aside from supporting health care operations, the unit's soldiers also perform blood banking and clinical procedures ranging from hematology to chemistry, utilizing different instruments to include mobile refrigeration units and rapid testing kits to ensure safe transfusions.


According to Morrison, while involved in contingency operations, the unit provides blood support throughout all echelons of care, from field hospitals to combat medics and Special Forces units engaged in combat operations. In addition to providing blood support for various levels of care, medical laboratory specialists run laboratory operations, sometimes fresh out of initial training, and perform blood product drives with service members in sometimes austere deployed environments.

"These [medical laboratory specialists] are junior soldiers running a massive lab operation to support trauma and mass casualty care," Morrison said.

Humanitarian missions operate from established military treatment facilities around the globe.

"Keeping a fresh supply of blood on hand depends a lot on the mission, location and ability to transport blood products to these units," said Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Strauss, detachment sergeant for the 440th Medical Detachment. "Some of the challenges are the requirements to transport the blood products to where they are needed."

Strauss, who in 2014 deployed in support of Operation United Assistance, an expeditionary humanitarian mission to West Africa to combat the Ebola epidemic, described his mission as heavily involving quality assurance and laboratory work.

Because the unit's training is difficult to replicate in a field environment, their primary means for medical skills readiness is accomplished through real-world specimens and working closely with the local blood donor centers and the Armed Services Blood Program.

"We train and are in a constant training cycle: we train, go to the field, become certified and deploy," Strauss said. "We're a dedicated theater asset, completely designed for the wartime mission."