By Lt. Col. Meritt Phillips, Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth ScottFebruary 5, 2020
FORT GORDON, Ga. -- Since 1962, the Armed Services Blood Program has served as the primary 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.
Members of Army Reserve Blood Detachment units are instrumental in ensuring the ASBP is able to successfully execute their ongoing mission. Soldiers that have earned the military occupational skill 68K, Army Medical Laboratory Specialist, have consistently been mobilized from the Army Reserve Medical Command on one-year mobilizations to support personnel shortfalls at locations like the Kendrick Memorial Blood Center on Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Sgt. Tykesha Baker, from El Paso, Texas, assigned to the 7384th Blood Detachment in Columbia, Missouri, is one of 16 Soldiers from Army Reserve Medical Command that are halfway through a yearlong mobilization. Assigned to Ft. Gordon, they regularly find themselves traveling to other military locations as part of their routine. The team gathers units of blood from basic trainees at Fort Jackson and Marine recruits at Parris Island in South Carolina that volunteer to support the ASBP. The blood they draw is refrigerated and shipped, as soon as the next day, to military locations worldwide.
A blood donation mission for Soldiers of the 7384th Blood Detachment finds them packing their equipment on trucks, arriving at their location of the day, and transforming standard buildings or gymnasiums into impromptu donation centers. Their mobile donation field kits include the necessary equipment for blood draws as well as reclining donor beds, processing stations and snacks for donors. The teams may even utilize a 14-passenger van to transport service members that volunteer to participate. The team is supported in their efforts by blood donation recruiters from the Defense Health Agency that assist with coordination of units participating in the blood drives.
Baker says the donated blood can be stored for approximately 35 to 42 days depending on the type of bag used to collect the unit. Depending on blood type and testing, the unit may be used as a low-titer whole blood unit or separated into packed red blood cells and plasma. Plasma can be frozen and stored for up to one year. Whole blood, red blood cells, and plasma all have their specific uses depending on what the patient needs. A traumatically injured patient may require transfusion of a whole blood unit. A patient with a disease or cancer might need red blood cells or plasma.
Baker has firsthand knowledge of how important her mission is through her husband, former Sgt. Kasib Abdullah, who served as a 68K in Afghanistan. He recounts receiving life-saving blood for Soldiers that he treated during his deployment. This experience allows the couple to share a unique connection to the mission.
"It is a great mission because I get to give back by doing something that matters, and we save lives. I feel I can give back more by being here full time rather than going to drill once a month and training," Baker shared. "It is a very important mission, because every day someone needs the blood we collect."
During a 7384th Blood Detachment mission, the team will have a weekly quota of the specific number of pints by blood type they hope to gather, but they may not meet their quote on rare types. Blood is sometimes exchanged with other organizations such as the American Red Cross or local donor centers to support medical treatment facilities and Veterans Administration hospitals around the country. But, only blood collected by the ASBP can be shipped overseas to support the war effort.
Although Baker and her fellow Soldiers are on an involuntary mobilization away from their homes and families, they recognize the importance of their mission and realize that it could be someone they know or love who may benefit from their efforts. "Even if it is rough for us, it is even rougher for those on the front lines. We need to place the mission first and never leave a fallen comrade. This mission has life or death consequences," said Baker.