FORT SILL, Okla. - On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, a fresh supply of blood can be the difference between the life or death of an American Soldier. For fire fighters, police officers, and teachers in the school house, the situation is much the same, said Sgt. Stanley Sharp, a signal support systems specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery.

"It's just as important for civilians to get blood when they need it," said Sgt. Zachery Watkins, a unit medic. "You never know what's going to happen and you can never be too prepared."

During a July 14, battalion blood drive, Soldiers from throughout the battalion gathered to donate blood, assisted by members of the Oklahoma Blood Institute. The blood collected by the OBI stays within the region, directly affecting the lives of those in near-by communities, said Daren Coats, the center director of the institute.

Military blood drives are extremely valuable to the OBI for a number of reasons, said Coats.

"The value of [military] blood drives is that it is a willing donor group. The best blood donors throughout the [country] are people who understand the need and are willing to give time and a little of themselves for others. Who better personifies that than a U.S. Soldier'" Coats said.

Furthermore, military donors are often younger, in better physical condition, and take better care of themselves than the general population, he added.

As a family member of someone who had a blood transfusion in the past, Sharp donates whenever he has the opportunity.

"I just saw the [OBI] vehicles outside and came in," he said.

Seeing the need of his fellow Soldiers first-hand has cemented Sharp's resolve to donate whenever the opportunity arises. However, his passion for service shines when he talks about his other reason for donating blood.

"It's giving back to your community. It's just another way of doing our job," Sharp said.

With a shelf life of only 42 days and a mandatory waiting period of 56 days between donations, blood supplies are always in danger of a shortage without a steady stream of volunteers, said Coats.

As the non-commissioned officer in charge of the blood drive, Watkins was happy with the turnout for the event.

"Right now we have an entire battery that's ineligible to donate because they just came back [from a deployment], but we're still expecting 40 of 50 people. Last time we had between 70 and 80 [volunteers]. The command has been very supportive," said Watkins.

Reinforcing that support, the battalions regularly schedule blood drives for their Soldiers. The 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery Regiment conducted its own on July 23, and the 168th Brigade Support Battalion scheduled its donation for July 30.

In the future, Watkins believes his battalion will continue in its quarterly blood drive efforts. For those wishing to learn more about donating blood, he suggests visiting the Oklahoma Blood Institute website for information.

"Taking a few minutes to donate blood may not seem like much, but - to the families in emergency rooms, waiting rooms, and cancer treatment facilities throughout the state - it's the gift that gives them time with a child, spouse, family member, or friend," concluded Coats.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute is a nonprofit organization. Its website is