AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
In combat zones, having blood products readily available to treat critically wounded patients is crucial to save the lives of military members downrange.
Due to the base’s robust mission, a fleet of several different types of aircraft, its prime location in a relatively safe area and large enough facilities to support the constant movement of blood products, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, is home to the only Blood Transshipment Center in the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.
Behind the scenes, working tirelessly on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there’s a team of four Airmen who are considered the gateway for receiving and shipping blood units across the AOR, impacting the lives of U.S. military members on a daily basis.
“Being the only BTC, we provide all the blood products for 78 forward operating locations and seven mobile field surgical teams in CENTCOM,” said Tech. Sgt. Miguel Davila, 379th Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron medical logistics technician. “Without us, a lot of these locations wouldn’t get blood in a timely manner, which would mean more lives lost downrange.”
The BTC team delivers eight different types of blood products, to include whole blood, red blood cells, platelets, liquid plasma, fresh frozen plasma, COVID-19 convalescent plasma, cryoprecipitate and dry ice.
“Blood product availability and timely distribution is crucial to the survival of injured warfighters,” said Maj. Giselle Rieschick, 379th EMDSS BTC officer in charge. “Our products are used to treat patients suffering from IED blasts, projectile injuries, gunshot wounds, COVID-19 critical illness and traumas.”
According to Staff Sgt. Cullen Sullivan, 379th EMDSS medical laboratory technician, blood products that are delivered in a timely manner and in the correct conditions can mean the difference between life and death for our military members downrange. This means the BTC team takes precautionary steps, ensuring their products are sustainable upon arrival to the forward operating locations.
To send a shipment, the team goes through numerous steps to ensure the products will arrive safe and ready to use as soon as they are received. This process begins by placing dry ice at the bottom of a Styrofoam container, which is placed inside of a heavy-duty cardboard box. The blood products are then packed and topped with a bag of wet ice. Lastly, the box is securely sealed and labeled with the information for its final destination. The blood products must be kept between one and ten degrees Celsius at all times in order to maintain the freshness while being transported to locations with unfavorable heat conditions.
While the BTC Airmen are able to send out 1,500 blood products a week, the job does not come without its difficulties.
“The most difficult part of our job would be the communication aspect,” said Rieschick. “It takes a lot of coordinating to see what the need is and then to ship those products using C-21 lifts, civilian aircraft, Navy ship resupply and air drops for the more remote locations. To make this happen we are truly a joint team—Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy.”
Military members serving in combat areas, medical teams at bases with less infrastructure and mobile field surgical teams can count on the BTC to supply them with the products they need in order to provide medical attention, no matter their location.
“There are only four of us [here] trained to do this job. We are on 24/7 standby, ready to ship blood wherever it needs to go, at any given time,” said Davila. “Knowing that the work we do by shipping our products is saving lives downrange is the most rewarding part of the job.”