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News | Oct. 15, 2021

Frozen blood - JBER hosts mobile blood course

By Senior Airman Jordan Smith 673 Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Alaska--Blood is important, and freezing blood is a vital life saving capability.

Education and training instructors from the Armed Services Whole Blood Processing Laboratory West, Travis Air Force Base, California, traveled to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to teach frozen blood transshipment and glycerolization processes to 673d Medical Group laboratory technicians. 

The mobile blood course is a five-day course that includes two teams of U.S. Airmen and U.S. Soldiers from various overseas locations, including Misawa Air Base and Kadena Air Base, Japan; Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. 

“This is the first time where we actually have taken this course and moved it to a different location than where we typically teach it,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Horning, the Travis AFB Armed Services Whole Blood Processing Laboratory West noncommissioned office in charge of training and education. “It’s designed to save the Air Force money by flying two instructors out, as opposed to flying everyone to our facility.”

The mobile blood course’s mission is two-fold: to train medical teams at select overseas military installations with the capabilities to transport frozen blood units, and/or to perform the glycerolization process, including freezing and thawing blood units, for use in humanitarian or contingency operations. The teams are expected to be able to thaw 1,000 units of frozen blood in 24 hours, and will be at 100 percent readiness upon completion of the course. 

Frozen blood has to be kept at negative 65 degrees, negative 45 for shipment. The JBER team has dual capabilities, meaning they are able to both ship the frozen blood and perform the glycerolization processes. 

“We can get the [frozen] blood products in, the first team can deglyce them, and the other team can ship them,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Karla Workman, a 673d MDG officer in charge of transfusion services. “When shipping the blood it has to be kept frozen, so if you’re working with the liquid blood, it has to be re-iced before transportation. If it doesn’t get re-iced on the flight line, the blood will no longer be good. So you’re talking about a lot of money, and then also life saving capabilities that may need to go down range, and that’s what the transshipment team does. They package, box it up, and then send it on the aircraft to wherever it needs to go.”

Without transshipment capabilities, the alternative to acquiring needed blood either down range or in the location of a catastrophe is setting up a local walk-in blood donation center, where medical personnel have to hope to get the blood types they need at that time.

“Having been in the medical field for about 10 years, I have seen a lot of the operational plans as far as real deal contingencies that we try to prepare for on a daily basis, and the capability that we have to respond is a very, very critical part of it,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Burden, the 673d Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge of warehouse operations. “We have figured out a way as a military to ensure that we can keep a large stockpile of infusible blood and be able to send that anywhere.”

The frozen blood process is tri-service; the Army, Air Force, and Navy all use the same frozen blood process for various operations around the world. 

“Bottom line, it’s about being mission ready!” said Horning. “The course takes these individuals and makes sure they know what they’re doing. I want to make sure that lives are being saved, not taken.”