By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2014 - Air Force Col. Richard H. McBride wants all service members to be part of a new arms race.
McBride, the director of the Armed Services Blood Program, wants service members to roll up their sleeves and donate blood to help their fellow service members and their families.
Historically, blood levels shrink around the holidays, and since 1970 January has been declared National Blood Donor Month.
"January, just like the summer months, is a time when there is a decrease in the blood supply, primarily because people are preoccupied with the holidays," McBride said during a recent interview. "This is a great time to encourage donors and keep them aware that we need donations 12 months a year, not just in the summer."
The Armed Services Blood Program is dedicated to ensuring that service members who need blood, get it. And the medics involved with the program have been getting a workout.
The fighting overseas has consumed a lot of blood resources, McBride said. One injured service member may need 40 units of blood in order to get back home.
"It's a sacred mission that we hold in our hearts," the colonel said.
The program's staff wants to ensure that every wounded warrior that can make it home does come home.
"We never want to hear that they didn't come home because they didn't have enough blood," McBride said.
The program also provides blood products for stateside service members and family members.
"Right now we collect about 10,000 units per month -- about 120,000 a year," said McBride, who hails from New York City's borough of Queens. "In peacetime, it can go as low as 90,000 [units] per year, but at the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom we were collecting about 150,000 to 160,000 a year."
One blood donation can result in four products. Red blood cells are what give blood its color and what a person needs if he or she is in danger of bleeding to death. Blood plasma is the straw-colored liquid that has clotting factors in it. Doctors use plasma to prevent bleeding.
Platelets are blood cell fragments and also help accelerate clotting. A final blood product is cryoprecipitate, which is also used to accelerate clotting.
Doctors also use whole blood and there have been times during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where doctors had to transfuse whole blood to wounded warriors.
In times of crises, doctors sometimes must turn to "the walking blood bank." This is an emergency whole blood collection from service members.
"It's definitely not planned, but we train for it," McBride said. "In those cases, we ask everyone to roll up their sleeves and donate at a moment's notice."
He continued, "We've never had a problem with people donating" blood throughout all the military operations.
"Our troops donate, and those deployed have no problem rolling up their sleeves if they are available to save another warrior's life," he said.
The blood program follows all Food and Drug Administration rules, even in a war zone, McBride said.
The Armed Services Blood Program has 21 blood centers in the United States and overseas. Blood donors must be 18 or older, in good health and free of any blood-borne infectious diseases. The armed services program accepts donations from service members, family members, DOD civilians, contractors and veterans, the colonel said.
The typical donation takes about 45 minutes, he said, and it could save the lives of several military brothers or sisters thousands of miles away.
"You can help bring them back to their families," McBride said.