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Medical Airmen, volunteers keep blood supply flowing

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Al Udeid Air Base’s Blood Transshipment Center is a one of a kind place.

While it is the only blood transshipment center in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, it also houses one of the few missions on base that regularly uses volunteers from other career fields.

“We are the sole suppliers of blood units to our customers,” said Tech. Sgt. Federico Arriaga, 379th Expeditionary Medical Group BTC logistics craftsman. “Because we are here, we’re able to provide that blood. We’re saving lives and we’re able to bring our people back home.”

Arriaga is one member of a four-person team who orchestrates the flow of blood and platelet products to 72 forward operating locations and eight mobile field surgical teams throughout the AOR. The team is responsible for sending out an average of 45 shipments and 3,500 units each month.

In order to more quickly and reliably deliver their life-saving assets, the team augments itself with Airmen across Al Udeid who volunteer their time to help.

“The volunteers speed up the process immensely,” said Staff Sgt. Jessica Kinser, 379th EMDG BTC lab technician.  There's only three of us that handle the blood when it comes in. Without the volunteers, the process time would be in hours. Sure we would make it work on our own, but the volunteers significantly reduce the risk. Because of the strict temperature requirements of the products, you have to be fast in order to get it back into its ideal environment. Volunteers just make it happen.”

Volunteers help by building boxes that keep blood products cold, taking inventory of items, and organizing them in a refrigerated storage unit by expiration date to ensure they are shipped out at the appropriate time.

Kinser also said that the influx of diverse backgrounds into their workcenter helps broaden their perspective in ways they can use to make processes better.

“Having volunteers from other career fields brings ideas and insight,” said Kinser. “We have a lot of volunteers who handle the blood from different arenas … they help us ship it out so we learn how their process works and it gives us a better understanding of how to do our job. We learn the big picture which we wouldn't know if the volunteers weren't here to educate us.”

Staff Sgt. Jasmine Gates, 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron AE technician and BTC volunteer, said being part of a team that enables potentially life-saving medical care has broadened her perspective on her deployment.

"They ship it out to so many places, so being involved and having such a big impact in saving lives is rewarding,” she said. “[Volunteering gives me] a better idea of the deployment as a whole as far as doing my job and doing my piece, and actually doing something else that involves the entire base and the whole mission of the base itself. [It’s] something else to be a part of in the AOR.”