Retired Marine Knows Importance of Donating Blood

March 2007: Marine Corps Capt. Harry Bailey is the operations officer with a Marine Corps transition team deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. Every day, he and his band of specially trained Marines live with and amongst their Iraqi military counterparts, battling insurgents and helping the Iraqi military transition into sole protection of their country.   On a day that began like every other, Bailey walked to a meeting — a debriefing at a house across the compound — to discuss a recent joint-operations mission. When he arrived, he sat down and prepared for the meeting, not knowing his life and outlook on things would soon change. As warriors from both sides gathered in the house of the war-torn city, Bailey was shot in his left leg when an Iraqi soldier clearing his rifle inadvertently fired in a separate room.   Although his memory of what happened next is a little fuzzy, Bailey said he remembers being taken to the surgical unit at Camp Fallujah via an Iraqi ambulance where they stabilized his leg and transported him to Baghdad, Iraq, then to Landstuhl, Germany, and eventually to Camp Lejeune, N.C. While at Camp Lejeune, doctors put a metal plate and 14 screws in his femur bone. He was then transported back to his home station at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for four additional surgeries and follow-up care.  

Today, retired from the Marine Corps, Bailey serves as the operations chief for the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Leonard Wood — the largest gathering of Marines outside a Marine Corps installation. Looking over at the memorabilia from his active-duty days gathered on a table across the room, he said he isn’t sure how many units of blood or other medical care he needed, but he was glad it was there.   “I’ve realized that donating blood can be a life or death matter,” Bailey said. “When I was active-duty, I had that “Superman” mind set. I thought I was a big, strong, tough guy and was in control of things.

“Getting shot made me realize I have no control over what happens. At that instant, my ability to fight and take care of myself and others was taken away and I became fully reliant on the Marines around me and the medical system,” Bailey continued.   Bailey said he’s always believed in donating blood because “those men and women serving overseas need it.” He said those sentiments became all too real when he was wounded.   “Donating blood is a big deal. People need to get off the fence and decide to donate to servicemembers protecting our freedom and their families,” he said. “You can manufacture blood pressure machines, surgical instruments and other medical equipment, but you can’t manufacture blood. You can have the best facilities, all the technology in the world available and the most skilled physicians and nurses, but those things really don’t matter if the blood people need isn’t there.”   Making sure blood is available when needed is where the Armed Services Blood Program comes in. This tri-service program has more than 20 blood donor centers worldwide, supplying blood and blood products to more than 1.3 million servicemembers, retirees and their families. Blood has a very limited shelf life and must be collected regularly to make it available for everything from routine military medical treatment facility operations to contingency situations.   According to Marty Ricker, ASBP blood donor recruiter supervisor, the military healthcare system transfuses about 400 units of blood every day or about 12,000 units per month. And though those who donate confess there’s no better feeling than saving a life, only about only 3 percent of eligible donors actually donate.

Adding to the ASBP’s up-hill battle, stringent Food and Drug Administration rules governing donor eligibility and repeat military deployments often reduce the program’s donor pool size which makes the military’s need for blood donors even more apparent.   “When you donate blood to the Armed Services Blood Program, you’re saving servicemembers’ lives,” said Capt. Paul Ambrose, officer-in-charge of the Fort Leonard Wood Blood Donor Center. “Every hour of every day, someone like Captain Bailey, needs blood. Only with your help can we get it to them.   “The consequences can be fatal if blood isn’t available for people who need it, so we really ask for as many people as possible to donate. Our heart-felt thanks go out to everyone who has donated with us before and we look forward to seeing them again and again,” Ambrose continued.

Bailey said the ASBP is a tremendous program that people should think about more often. In fact, the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Leonard Wood is conducting a month-long drive in June to show their support in a big way.   “It’s important that all servicemembers, family members and leaders have blood donation engrained into the fabric of military culture, not just as an afterthought,” Bailey said.

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