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JBSA-Lackland Blood Donor Center saves lives

Basic military trainees from the 323rd Training Squadron stand at ease in front of the bloodmobile July 6, 2011, at the Blood Donor Center, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The center collects about 1,100 units of blood each month and depends on the Lackland BMTs and other donors. More than 60 trainees attended a ribbon-cutting event, unveiling the new vehicle that will be used to conduct blood drives at locations in San Antonio, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kevin Iinuma)

The Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Blood Donor Center collects blood, plasma and platelets for Veterans Affairs and military hospitals across the country. Anyone can donate; donations typically take about 45 minutes for blood, up to 1.5 hours for plasma, and two hours for platelets. The center is part of the 59th Medical Diagnostic and Therapeutics Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Blood Donor Center may have wrapped up a productive National Blood Donor month, but donor recruiter Tracy Parmer says the struggle to meet the military’s need for blood, plasma and platelets is never over.

“Success and failure for us is daily,” Parmer said in an interview on Jan. 27. “Today, we need twelve platelets, but right now we’ve got five. I’ve got to figure out how to get the rest before 1 p.m.”

The blood donor center is part of the 59th Medical Diagnostic and Therapeutics Squadron. As if the day-today stress isn’t enough, Parmer said she’s always thinking ahead.

“Tomorrow, if the hospital says we need 20 (packs of) O positives and we only have six, we’re (behind),” she explained.

Even with small battles like these, there’s plenty at stake for the blood donor center, which supplies the Brooke Army Medical Center at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and the deployment in Afghanistan, as well as Veterans Affairs and military hospitals across the country. Any individual – military or civilian - can donate, which typically takes about 45 minutes for blood, up to 1.5 hours for plasma, and two hours for platelets.

Unless you are prohibited by series of government-enforced criteria, like visitors to the Korean demilitarized zone or six-month inhabitants of Europe between 1980 and 1996, you can donate blood every eight weeks, plasma once a month, and platelets once a week.

Senior Airman Corey Gunn, a 59th MDTS laboratory technician, has been working at the center for three years. Gunn said the center’s staff always makes sure to let donors know how important their actions are.

“We just explain where the blood is going and the impact it’s going to have on people’s lives,” he said.

For just about everyone, this makes the trip a rewarding one, Gunn added.

“It’s pretty good to see that this is going to help injured vets and sick people in San Antonio,” he said.

But the work of people like Gunn and Parmer means little if they can’t get enough donors through the door. That’s why Parmer said she’s constantly pulling out all the stops to bring attention to the blood donor center.

“Newspaper articles, email, newcomers’ briefings, blood drives, points of contact, sergeants, anything really,” Parmer explained. “Even in your office – if people ask you, ‘where are you going,’ you say ‘I’m going to donate because the hospital needs it,’ and then they decide to go with you – and now we have two (donors).”

We try to piece it together, but our success and our failure is a daily battle.”

Parmer said she hopes to win this battle by building a pool of regular donors on the base.

Senior Airman Evan Black, a munitions and maintenance technician with the 433rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, is one such example, having donated more than 20 times. Though donors don’t always know where their samples will end up, Black has donated enough to have a first-hand look at how big an impact such donations can have.

“I started (donating) in Afghanistan,” he recalled. “They needed volunteers for it … one of the times we had an (improvised explosive device) attack outside the gate, and some of those platelets (I donated) went to save some of those Soldiers.”

Black said potential donors might never know how close to home their donation might reach.

“One of the guys I work with, he’s had cancer,” Black explained. “So, during chemo, if he ever has internal bleeding, they actually use these platelets to help stop the bleeding – just stuff like that.”

The JBSA-Lackland Blood Donor Center is open for donations Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Interested donors can call (210) 292-8100 to schedule an appointment or find out about blood drives.