FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — American service members can be found performing their missions on all seven continents, in some of the most remote parts of the globe. Wherever they go, these service members can count on a regular supply of blood, should they need it, thanks to the Department of Defense Armed Services Blood Program and the thousands of volunteers who choose to give.
Helping make the whole process possible are 20 donor centers, scattered across the globe — and one of them is right here in central Missouri.
The Fort Leonard Wood Blood Donor Center, which was moved into a brand new, state-of-the-art, 17,000-square-foot facility in 2021, is charged with the mission of seeking out “gracious donors, who step up and live the Army Values, knowing that donating blood is the right thing to do,” said Lt. Col. James Burke, the center’s officer in charge since December.
“Blood only comes from one source,” Burke said. “We can’t make it. It comes from people like you and me.”
When an individual donates blood, two different products are created, Burke said.
“The red cells may go to one recipient, and the plasma, which has the clotting factors in it, may go to another recipient,” he added. “So, every time somebody walks in that front door and says, ‘I’m here to donate blood,’ they may not know who they are helping, but they’re helping two individuals out there, who are in need of those blood products.”
The DOD needs hundreds of blood units every day, and Carl Norman, the center’s donation recruiter, helps find volunteers through outreach efforts across the installation. While the trainee population here provides the bulk of the donations through unit-level blood drives, Norman said every person on the installation plays a role in ensuring the supplies are available when needed. To date this year, Norman pointed out that 99 people have walked into the facility and donated.
“When people think, ‘My one unit (of blood) isn’t going to make a difference,’ you put that one unit with the other 100 people who will come in over the next six months, then that winds up being more of a significant thing.”
Blood may be donated safely once every 56 days, and those who choose to donate plasma alone may return to donate every 28 days. This is important for people to know, Norman said, because blood products have an expiration date.
“Blood has a very short shelf life,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to last six months; it’s a perishable product, so we always have to have a continuous inflow of donors. Those who do donate, we always encourage them to come back and stay in the donation cycle.”
Two Soldiers who have become regular donors here are Sgt. Eric Dowler and Spc. Douglas Olenik, from the 399th Army Band.
Olenik, a tuba player by trade, called it a direct way for service members to help their fellow brothers and sisters in arms.
“I chose to donate because I know how important it is to have blood available for emergencies,” he said. “I like, in particular, that by donating to the Blood Donor Center, my donation will be used for the military community.”
Dowler, who also plays the tuba, added that he donates because he knows his contributions don’t just help unnamed patients thousands of miles away; “my small donation could actually save the life of my next-door neighbor.”
“It’s crucial that those who are able visit the Blood Donor Center and give what they can,” he said. “Life-saving blood only comes from living, breathing humans. It is our responsibility to help those in need … and there is no reason any able-bodied individual shouldn’t be making regular donations.”
Norman said the center conducts unit-level blood drives Sundays through Wednesdays, and walk-ins are welcome any time between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays — appointments may also be made during walk-in hours.
While there are some factors that can disqualify an individual, Norman said anyone considering donating should call or stop by with their concerns, as they are handled on a case-by-case basis through a screening process.
Common questions they are asked, he said, involve flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines.
“We get calls all the time, ‘Can I donate? I just got my COVID shot or my flu shot,’” Norman said. “Those two shots — the COVID vaccines and the flu shots — have no deferral time to them. You can donate if you’re not symptomatic.”
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, however, must be symptom free for 14 days before donating, he added.
Some vaccines have up to a four-week deferral period, Norman said, and it’s a good idea to bring vaccine records when trying to donate.
Another factor for everyone to consider is the weight requirement — individuals must weigh at least 116 pounds. Potential donors must also disclose any medications they are taking, and they must be feeling well and healthy at the time of donation.
“And please come hydrated,” Norman said.
To get to the Blood Donor Center from the main gate, follow Missouri Avenue to North Dakota Avenue and merge right at the electronic marquee just past General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital. Turn left on Iowa Avenue, and then make a right on West 11th Street. The center is at the end of that street, across from Cunningham Gym. On-site parking is available.
For more information, call 573.596.5385 or e-mail email@example.com.