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The competition is on to see which military branch can collect the most blood donations in the National Capital Region over the next month, for an opportunity to earn bragging rights, a trophy and, more importantly, a chance to support the need for blood donations during the holiday season.

The Armed Services Blood Bank Center-National Capital Region (ASBBC-NCR) launched its second annual Blood Donor Challenge last week, a campaign that encourages the region’s military installations to collect as many units of blood as possible during a time of year when there’s usually a shortage of donations, said Army Lt. Col. Robert Pell, chief of Walter Reed Bethesda’s Blood Service. The winning service, Army or Navy, that collects the most units by the end of the campaign, Dec. 7, will be announced and awarded a crystal, blood drop shaped trophy at the Army-Navy game on Dec. 8.

“During the holidays, people are busy traveling and spending time with family, so we do not receive many donations. Therefore, units collected during the campaign will help mitigate this shortage,” said Pell. He added that the challenge is tied to the Army-Navy game because it’s an iconic, annual event that allows greater visibility of their program.

The ASBP (Armed Services Blood Program) is a joint operation between the Army, Navy and Air Force that provides blood products for service members and their families throughout the country, as well as overseas, in combat, and to treatment facilities across the globe, he explained. It involves many components working together, internationally, to collect blood donations, process, store and distribute blood.

“We have a lot of great collection and transfusion sites … That’s what’s great. It’s just a great big community that helps each other out,” said Pell.

Pell went on to explain, each unit of “whole” blood can be separated into three main components: red blood cells, plasma and platelets. Red blood cells, the focus of the donor challenge, carry oxygen through the blood and have a shelf-life of about 42 days. A donation takes only about a half hour, and greatly benefits patients suffering severe blood loss after trauma, he said.

Plasmas are primarily used to restore clotting, and are commonly transfused to patients with clotting deficiencies, he continued. They can be frozen quickly, stored for up to a year, and then thawed out quickly before use. Platelets, however, only last a few days. They are vital in the clotting process, often used in surgeries, and are collected in the medical center’s aphresis center, where a centrifuge separates this component from the blood a process that can take about an hour and a half, he said.

Each unit of blood can potentially help three people, Pell continued. The Navy won last year’s challenge, collecting about 530 units. The Army wasn’t far behind, with just over 400 units, for a total of nearly 950 altogether. This year, the goal is to collect 1,200 units from the nine participating locations: Walter Reed Bethesda, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, in Fort Belvoir, Va.; the Washington Navy Yard, in Washington, D.C.; Fort George G. Meade, Md.; Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Arlington, Va.; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Aberdeen, Md.; and Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, Edgewood, Md.

Pell added that civilians and services members, who aren’t Army or Navy, may choose which “team” they want their donation to go to during the friendly competition.

“We appreciate all the donors who come out and help make it successful. The command has [also] been very supportive of our programs,” he said.

For more information about the ASBBC-NCR’s Blood Donor Challenge, call Lt. Col. Pell at 301-295-8614, or email him at robert.k.pellhealth.mil. You may also call Lt. Deirdre Desmond at 301-295-2688, or Vicki Fernette at 301-295-2109. To learn more about the Armed Services Blood Program, visit www.militaryblood.dod.mil.