Moving Blood is Big Challenge

Moving Blood is Big Challenge

Medevac taking off
Photo by: U.S. Army/Lt. Col. John Hall

Getting blood to the front lines of future battles is a critical survival factor for injured troops and a challenge for Army medical personnel. 

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars proved the value of having blood available as close as possible to the front lines, Brig Gen. Mark Thompson, Army Medical Command’s deputy chief of staff for support, said during a Warriors Corner presentation at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Alabama. 

In large-scale, high-casualty wars, having blood as close as possible to injured soldiers is a lifesaver, he said. However, getting blood supplies closer to the front than a military hospital is a challenge, particularly when it comes to transferring the blood safely and quickly. It is important to maintain the proper temperature, avoid breakage of containers and prevent theft by adversaries who’d also like to get their hands on fresh blood supplies, Thompson said. 

To succeed, the Army requires special containers for shipping that are low on energy use, said Col. Ryan Eckmeier, Army Medical Command’s director of logistics. Plans are being developed for storage and distribution of blood “to the point of need,” he said, which means as close to the front line as possible. 

This has been a problem in Ukraine, where defensive units in the fight with Russians don’t have blood supplies available to treat casualties until they reach a hospital behind the lines.  

The U.S. Army is also planning the expansion of what military doctors refer to as a “walking blood bank,” where fellow soldiers can donate blood close to the front lines for those who need immediate help or donate it for later use. Army officials accept that there may not always be a donor with the right blood type close to where it is needed, which is why there is so much focus on quick transportation of blood by air, land or sea. 

An alternative to frozen blood could be dried plasma, which could be available in a few years, Eckmeier said. Dried plasma would pose a reduced challenge to transport because it has a smaller requirement to be kept cold and is easier to carry. 

Blood delivery is an even bigger challenge if the distance is far, such as getting blood across the Indo-Pacific, Thompson and Eckmeier said. Time and distance create special challenges, Thompson said.