The History of The Armed Services Blood Program: Ford Ord California 1992

Glass Baxter Bottles, the bottles used for blood collection and shipment in WWII and the Korean war.
Glass Baxter Bottles, the bottles used for blood collection and shipment in WWII and the Korean war.

A History Behind the Armed Services Blood Program

The following history of the Armed Services Blood Bank Program is based upon an article published in my training manual on August 1982 titled "The Role of the Military Blood Bank in Contingency and Moblization" written by LCDR Donald Smith, MSC, USN Blood Resource Officer, Blood Bank National Naval Medical Center Bethesda Maryland.

The United States Armed Forces did not start a comprehensive blood banking program until after WWII. Up until then cell free plasma was used by combat units to keep blood volume up in patients who had extensive blood loss.

Plasma, at the time, seemed not only to help keep soldiers alive in combat situations but was easily transported to hot spots where needed. Whole blood was a different story all together.

On June 1944, during the battle of Normandy the US shipped over its first units of whole blood. These units of blood were shipped from the US to Europe via Scotland. Blood units heading to the pacific left California on propellor aircraft to Hawaii and then to Guam.

Guam had a Blood Distribution center that moved the units to islands like New Guinea, Guadacanal, Okinawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and the Phillipines.

Millions of units of blood in glass Baxter bottles collected by the Red Cross were sent to military hospitals in Europe and the Pacific. Yet, after the war the military dismantled its blood collection and distribution system.

Three months after the Korean War began in 1950 units once again began to be collected and shipped. This time the shipments where sent on propellor planes from San Fransico to Hawaii, Wake Island, Japan, and finally Korea.

Once again these units were collected by the Red Cross and stored in glass Baxter bottles. There was a total of 340,00 pints of whole blood shipped during the Korean war.

Then came the Vietnam War. By 1965 less than 100 units of blood were used in the conflict but this increasec to 8,000 by February 1966. The peak of usage was in February of 1969 where 38,000 units of blood were being used. One million units of blood were used in Vietnam.

The Vietnam War brought on some significant changes in the way blood was shipped and utilized. First, whole blood was no longer collected by the Red Cross, one hundred percent of units used in the conflict were collected by military blood banks.

Second, glass Baxter bottles were no longer used due to the difficulties in shipping glass. Instead blood was collected and shipped in polyvinyl chloride bags.

Third, blood was shipped by jet aircraft, MATS C-141 Starlifters. Shipments left McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersy then flew to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, then from there to Vietnam.

Blood was also being collected in Japan, Korea, Okinawa, and the Phillipines, and was being filtered into Vietnam through Yokota, Japan.

Fort Sam Houston Academy of Health Sciences
Fort Sam Houston Academy of Health Sciences
Hospital at Fort Ord
Hospital at Fort Ord
Mobile Blood Services
Mobile Blood Services

The Program Today

There is a structural framework to ensure that during conflict blood units will be shipped in a timely manner to where they need to be.

The control of this framework rest with the director of the Military Blood Program Office (MBPO) in Washington, D.C. Each branch of the service has its own individualized blood program structure and office.

Each branch would be in control of mobilizing blood units within their branch during a conflict.

In peacetime the Armed Services Whole Blood Processing Laboratory (ASWBPL) at McGuire Air Force Base is at a constant state of readiness. The ASWBPL maintains its blood inventory from collection shipped from various bases. The technical staffing of ASWBPL is tri-service.

The United States also maintains blood distribution centers overseas. In the Pacific there is the Pacific Command Blood Center (PACOM) at Okinawa and the U.S. Army European Command Blood Bank (USAEUR) that was located in Germany.

Both of the overseas blood distributions centers collect, process, and store units of blood.

In case of conflict the MBPO would have each branch begin the collecting, processing, storage, and ultimately the mobilization of blood units around the globe.

Armed Services Blood Bank Center Fort Ord, CA

I stood in formation while our Sargent walked past the front of the line. This was Sept of 1992 and I had just finished an extensive training in Medical Laboratory Technology at the Fort Sam Houston Military Academy of Health Sciences.

I itched to know where the Army would send me next and tried to stand still as the Sargent handed out our orders one soldier at a time. The morning had not given way to the scorching heat of the afternoon and the shade from our billets made the wait tolerable. I still found myself covered in sweat in my BDU's, more out of anticipation than anything else.

The Sargent read off a name at a time as we walked out of formation and picked up our orders read them and quietly returned to the ranks.

My roommate recieved his orders and frowned as he returned to the ranks.

"They sent me to the Presidio in San Fransico. I wanted the South." He said.

My anxiety level had reached its peak, I wanted the West Coast and wished I had orders to the Presidio. Finally my name was called and I walked up to the front of the formation and reached out to grab my orders. I opened them and noticed that they read "Fort Polk Louisiana."

I groaned. My groan must have been heard by our Sargeant as he yelled at me to stay quiet and I found myself on the ground doing pushups.

Shortly after formation we broke ranks and headed towards our billets to perform our cleaning tasks for the day. Yet, one of my instructors pulled me off to the side.

"Specialist Hamann." He stated as he sat me down on a bench directly in front of the billets.

"Yes, Sargent" I replied.

"I pulled you aside to let you know that you have been chosen to train at the Armed Services Blood Bank Program in Fort Ord California for six months before leaving to Fort Polk Louisiana. There you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about Blood Bank Operations." He placed a packet of new orders in my hand and I read them carefully.

I would be going to the west coast after all and I would be learning how to run a Blood Bank. My excitement was hard to contain but I stood up and shook the Sargents hand.

"Congratulations soldier."

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