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Camp Pendleton unit brings lifesaving ‘walking blood bank’ to the battlefield during Middle East deployment

Marines from Southern California deployed as crisis responders to the Middle East are training with a new battlefield technique to immediately provide fresh blood to the injured that commanders say will save more lives.

Hemorrhaging by a wounded person remains the leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield, officials said, and transfusing blood remains a cornerstone in its treatment.

So one of the four 1st Marine Expeditionary Force units that deployed from Camp Pendleton in early June as part a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, is debuting the Emergency Fresh Whole Blood program, dubbed “Valkyrie” which provides a “walking blood bank” for traumatic casualties. They are the first conventional forces trained in the program.



Marines with type O blood were pre-screened before the deployment and are prepared to be the source of a blood transfusion in the field for a fellow wounded Marine. Corpsmen attached to the unit now carry a 2 pound kit – about the size of a laptop – with all the supplies needed for the procedure, which could even be done from behind cover during a fire fight.

Each kit costs the government $135 and each qualified corpsman can carry two with their standard gear and equipment.

By having people at the ready who can provide blood, a higher level of care can be given more immediately and in remote locations – especially in that first “golden” hour after injury.

Special Operations forces have used similar techniques in the past and the U.S. Army deployed a blood program among its 75th U.S. Army Rangers in Afghanistan earlier this year.

Unlike previous efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the first levels of treatment came from either buddy care or a corpsman who used a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, the fresh blood program allows the injured Marine to get back exactly what was lost.  The program is not exactly new, fresh blood was used during much earlier conflicts such as World War II and the Korean War, but fell out of favor at the start of the Vietnam War.

“More research was done, and scientists realized replacing what you lost gives you back better clotting,” Lt. Lauren Murray, battalion surgeon with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, one of the four units from Camp Pendleton, said in a phone call from a base in Kuwait. “The fresh factor also plays a role. When we do emergency fresh whole blood transfusions, and it’s not stored, you get superior resuscitating fluid.”

Valkyrie is also immediate. During Iraq and Afghanistan, most Marines who lost limbs due to bomb blasts didn’t get blood products until they were either on a helicopter –  if it was equipped to provide transfusions – or at a hospital.

A Department of Defense study that reviewed traumatic battlefield injuries from 2001 to 2011 in Iraq and Afghanistan said there were 887 deaths that resulted from massive blood loss that might have had a different outcome had there been blood available before a medical evacuation helicopter arrived.  By enabling multiple on-the-spot donors, blood can be safely transfused from a mobile donor to a critical patient during transport or they could be dragged to a location shielded from hazard.

“In a situation with an injured Marine, it allows us to provide treatment on the scene,” said Capt Michael Nolan, commander of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion/5th Marines.

And Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Madigan, the programs lead instructor, said once the needed blood is taken from the donor, “then I’d put him back into the fight.”

Nearly 50 corpsmen and Marines in the company are ready to use their new training should the need arise. More are added each week and, ultimately, all future units who are deploying will be trained, Madigan said.

And, with their mission of crisis response in the Middle East, a threat can come at any time. Even when things are peaceful, these Marines are providing humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuations and tactical recovery of downed aircraft or personnel.

“Should there be a crisis, we get on the ospreys to help anyone who needs our help,” Nolan said. In all, there are about 2,000 Marines and sailors on the deployment; they are spread out over several bases in Kuwait.

The Valkyrie concept was brought to the 2nd Battalion/5th Marines by Lt. Cmdr. Russ Weir, the battalion’s former surgeon and now deputy surgeon of the 1st Marine Division. They tested it in 2018 while deployed in the Indo-Pacific region.

Senior Chief Thomas Peterson, the Navy’s senior enlisted leader on the Kuwait deployment, was part of that training, and once he came back to Camp Pendleton, he began introducing the concept in the schools there. It is now part of the curriculum that prepares sailors to become the corpsmen who are attached to Marine infantry units.

Before a deployment, potential blood donors are identified and screened for any transferable or transmittable diseases. The best candidates are those with low-level antibodies that could otherwise cause the service member receiving the transfusion to reject the blood. Donors get an identification card to keep with them at all times.

Before platoons go out on patrols or missions, corpsmen can know ahead of time who they can tap in an emergency.

“Our ground combat element has really spearheaded this program and brought it to the entire command,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sean Nardi, force surgeon for the task force these units are serving with. “We, along with champions of the program stateside, are currently validating training plans and standard operating procedures in order to truly make it a program of record for conventional forces throughout the service.”

Since this group of Marines took their place in Kuwait attached to U.S. Central Command, they’ve had their share of missions.

Projects have included repairing an Iraqi runway to help the Iraqi Security Forces to continue their fight against ISIS, said Capt. Joshua Hays, spokesman for the expeditionary unit. The Marines have also worked with Jordanian Armed Forces on training and tactics and provided security patrols in Syria.

Not all training is on land, the Marines also recently completed an exercise at sea aboard the USS Lewis B. Puller done in collaboration with the Navy and Air Force special operations and aircraft from the United Arab Emirates Joint Aviation Command.

To prepare for the Middle East deployment, Marines and sailors trained for a year at Bridgeport in the High Sierra, in the desert at Twentynine Palms and at Camp Pendleton to ensure they are ready for the harsh climate and environments.

Source: Orange County Register

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