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January is National Blood Donor Month, and according to OrganDonor.gov, the theme of the annual event is “Give Blood … The Gift of Life.”

The Armed Services Blood Program Office (ASBPO) website says military members have been doing that since at least 1952.

“As we continue to celebrate our 60th anniversary, we would like to send a heartfelt thank you to the donors that have made saving lives possible,” said Air Force Col. Richard H. McBride, director of the Armed Services Blood Program. “The donors, volunteers and supporters of 2012 have made such a huge difference in the lives of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines,” said McBride. “We couldn’t do what we do without you.”

ASBPO recommends, in general, that blood donors weigh at least 110 pounds, be at least 17 years of age, have been feeling well for at least three days, be well-hydrated and have eaten something prior to donating.

Though many people may be willing to donate, candidates are carefully screened for eligibility before their blood is drawn and some may be turned away.

Julie Oliveri, communications and marketing director for ASBPO, said to be a donor, rules set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Defense (DOD) must be met. “It may sound odd, but blood is considered a pharmacological product, so it’s regulated by the FDA,” said Oliveri. “For that reason, all of our collection operations must be licensed by them.”

For instance, under FDA rules candidates at risk for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) may be deferred from donating either for a year (after sexual contact with someone at risk for HIV), or permanently (for men who have had sexual contact with men, even once, since 1977).

Under DOD rules, candidates may also be deferred from giving for 12-24 months after certain deployments or after living overseas. Members returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and “other malaria-endemic areas” for less than 5 consecutive years are under a 12-month deferral upon return.

Catheryn Adens, the Armed Services Blood Blank (ASBB) mobile collections operations supervisor for the National Capital Region, says one of the best ways to give blood here at Naval Support Activity Bethesda is to participate in the monthly ASBB collection drives. The next one is scheduled for Jan. 25 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. in Building 9.

For more information on the Armed Services Blood Program and donor eligibility, visit: http://www.militaryblood.dod.mil.