Logistics Airmen provide battlefield medics with life-saving supplies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Bahja J. Jones
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
Forward-deployed medical professionals are limited to the supplies they have on-hand to provide immediate care to casualties prior to medical evacuation. They are dependent on regular shipments of blood, plasma, cryoprecipitate and dry ice provided by the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group blood transshipment center, or BTC.

"Within seven days of the blood being drawn from a donor's vein, it's shipped, processed through our facility and sent downrange," said Staff Sgt. Aaron Gerasch, the 379th Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron BTC NCO in charge, deployed from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

The 379th EMDG BTC is the hub for distributing blood products throughout the area of responsibility, or AOR. These products are essential to providing life-sustaining measures to not only U.S. forces, but also Afghan soldiers, NATO members and coalition forces who have been injured downrange, said Maj. Dennis Wooten, the 379th EMDSS BTC flight commander, deployed from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

"The frozen, fresh plasma and cryoprecipitate are especially important for multiple trauma and blast injury patients," Wooten said. "They help stop bleeding by replacing blood clotting factors that are lost by severe injury, and support the patient until they can be transported for further medical treatment."

The central location of the 379th EMDG BTC saves the Air Force time and resources used to get supplies to the medical facilities treating casualties, potentially saving lives, Wooten explained.

"During an average shipment, the BTC receives more than 500 units of packed red blood cells alone, each unit costing $325," he said. "If there wasn't a BTC in the AOR, blood would have a higher risk of being left unrefrigerated for too long, rendering it too dangerous to use. Loss of that many red blood cell units to warm temperatures would cost more than $160,000."

Shipments to the 379th EMDG BTC are coordinated through the forward deployed Joint Blood Program Officer in the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, who monitors the necessity of blood products within the AOR. The JBPO-F contacts the Armed Services Blood Processing Laboratory at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and the BTC receives the blood 16 hours after the order is placed.

"The first thing we do is check the temperature when the blood arrives to the BTC," said Senior Airman Leonard Tesoro, a 379th EMDSS BTC lab technician, deployed from Eglin.

The blood is then scanned into an electronic database for accountability, sorted and refrigerated at a temperature of between 33 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit. The plasma and cryoprecipitate are also stored at the required temperatures and monitored to keep them fresh and safe to use.

"Red blood cells are living tissue that must be expertly handled at all times," said Wooten.

Prior to distribution, the Airmen of the 379th EMDG BTC carefully package the materials and load them onto a pallet to be shipped wherever the blood products are needed.

"Even the way we load the pallet is important," Wooten said. "We have to be careful not to place the dry ice too close to the red blood cells so they don't freeze while being transported."

The blood products from the 379th EMDG BTC are distributed to more than 70 locations within the AOR, providing vital blood products used to treat injured personnel.