NEWS | Feb. 28, 2020

31st MEU Debuts Lifesaving Expeditionary Blood Bank while Embarked Aboard America Expeditionary Strike Group, Cobra Gold 20

By 1st Lt. Demond Glover

HAT YAO BEACH, Kingdom of Thailand -- The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit commits to improving lifesaving combat medicine through its Expeditionary Blood Bank, or EBB, the first employed on a MEU. The EBB is designed to keep the MEU forward-deployed, and self-sufficient in combat and crisis relief operations.

This newly employed procedure acts as a self-sustaining system able to supply fresh blood to patients requiring blood transfusion to survive. Prior to embarking with naval forces, the MEU holds blood drives to mitigate potential shortages, however, blood has a short shelf life. Obtaining fresh whole blood from Marines and Sailors serving with the MEU provides a more reliable alternative to relying on external resupply. This allows the MEU to set up combat lifesaving stations to perform transfusions, while still enabling the donor to quickly return to the fight.”

“The 31st MEU will do everything it can to make sure Marines and Sailors are taken care of when they risk their lives on the battlefield,” said Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. “As a continuously composited, globally deployable unit, the Expeditionary Blood Bank is one solution that allows us to stay independent and ready.”

Getting the blood to Marines and Sailors requiring transfusion denotes a fairly simple process: a donor, a trained corpsman and proper equipment. With the proper training and preparation, the system is simple enough to be managed by a single Navy corpsman, under the direction of a medical officer. A Marine in need can receive a unit of blood within a few minutes of collection. The lifesaving method can be scaled to treat a single person, or respond to a mass casualty event.

During Cobra Gold 20, Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU applied combat lifesaving techniques, mass casualty and blood transfusion rehearsals together with Thai Navy Medicine personnel during an amphibious landing exercise and other training scenarios. Rehearsing these concepts better prepares MEU personnel to react appropriately and save lives during real crisis.

In order to make it work, this lifesaving capability functions through a two-part system:

First, Combat Logistics Battalion-31, CLB-31, the logistics element for the 31st MEU, established a pre-screening and blood titer program, that determines anti-body count levels in the blood prior to embarking. Sailors and Corpsmen partnered with the Armed Services Blood Bank Center to screen personnel for blood types, titers, and infectious diseases. This creates a pool of eligible blood donors while on forward deployed. Sailors and Corpsmen of CLB-31 screen for individuals for blood-type classification and ensure potential donors are free of disease.

The second is training of personnel to properly collect blood and conduct blood transfusions. Corpsmen go through lectures on anatomy and physiology, practice intravenous access, practice blood draws and conduct unit blood drives. Once a patrol begins, the combined MEU elements work up to rehearse combat lifesaving procedures and medically integrate missions in order to stay prepared for a real threat.

“Stopping bleeding and replacing lost blood are the fundamentals of trauma care,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Snow, emergency medicine physician with CLB-31. “Now we can save more lives and do it further from home.”

Whether responding to a humanitarian crisis or taking the fight to an enemy, Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU prepare to reduce the risk of injury or death. To meet the challenge of providing lifesaving care far from home, the EBB ensures the MEU can stay in the fight.

The 31st MEU, the Marine Corps' only continuously forward-deployed MEU, provides a flexible and lethal force ready to perform a wide range of military operations as the premier crisis response force in the Indo-Pacific region.