FORT BRAGG — Bettie McDuffie is a 67-year-old civilian who will never deploy with the U.S. military, but her blood could be helping injured troops in Afghanistan by the end of this week.
McDuffie stood in line with about 300 others - mostly soldiers - at the Fort Bragg Blood Donor Center on Tuesday in response to a plea for blood to meet December's goals. It was the largest one-day crowd the center has had since it opened its new building last year. The center collected more than 150 units - one of the best days longtime workers had ever seen.
The line snaked around the lobby and down a hall so donors wouldn't have to wait in the rain. Center operators called in extra help so all 12 donor seats could be used.
"I just thought it was my patriotic duty," McDuffie said, settling into one of the blue vinyl recliners. "If they can go overseas and serve and get hurt, I can do this."
The donor center is part of the Armed Services Blood Program, which also has centers at Camp Lejeune and some 20 other locations in the U.S. and around the world. Blood collected at the center can be used for emergencies at Fort Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center, such as last March's incident when 10 people were injured from an artillery round that exploded during live-fire training on post.
But the program's mission is to collect, process, store and test blood for use in military hospitals around the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq. Blood collected on Tuesday will be shipped overseas, most likely to Afghanistan, by the end of the week, said Linda Ellerbe, spokeswoman for the program at Bragg.
Tuesday's drive was a reminder that while the war in Iraq has ended, troops in Afghanistan face daily danger. One injured soldier may need more than 40 units of blood, according to the blood program's website.
Center officials don't like to talk about how much blood they need or have on hand, but going into the final week of December, the Fort Bragg Blood Donor Center's online tracker indicated the center had only about 80 percent of what it needed for the month.
Ellerbe said it can be difficult to get donations during holiday periods, when soldiers take time off to travel and be with their families.
Also, frequent rotations of soldiers into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan have temporarily shrunk the donor pool. Anyone who deploys to those countries is barred from donating blood for a year after they return home. There are other limitations, as well: a new tattoo in the past year, recent surgery, a cold or flu in the past 72 hours, exercises that include flying or jumping from an airplane in the next 72 hours.
When the military can't recruit enough soldiers as donors, it relies on their family members and friends.
'They need it'
For this blood drive, word went out across Fort Bragg, and some soldiers got a call at home Monday night or were told Tuesday morning during their physical training that donors were needed.
"I went home, took a shower, and came straight over here," said Spec. Eva Deleon, 24, who reported for training at 6 a.m. and learned of the blood drive. "It's for the guys down range. They need it, and I'm in good health, so why not?"
Deleon's best friend, also a soldier, is in Afghanistan now, she said, and Deleon was thinking of her as the clinician slipped the needle into her arm.
"I hate needles, I hate them," said Deleon, who works in information services. "But I enjoy doing this, regardless of the fact that it hurts."
Some soldiers said they were offered a day off if they could give blood, and platelet donors are offered military promotion points. For others, the reward is a granola bar, a soft drink and a sense of satisfaction.
'Make a difference'
"That's what every soldier wants to do: make a difference one way or the other," said Sgt. Maj. Roger Howard, acting command sergeant major for U.S. Army Forces Command, which includes the 82nd Airborne Division.
Spec. Jeremy Paden, a parachute rigger from San Antonio, Texas, said medical problems have kept him from deploying, so he was glad for the chance to send blood.
"That's the reason I help out," said Paden, a regular blood donor, "because I don't get to go. This is the only way I get to help."
Karrin Swanson came to the blood drive along with her husband, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Swanson, an engineer who has been to Iraq three times. For Karrin Swanson, it was a simple decision to donate a pint of her blood to an unknown soldier 7,000 miles away.
"If it was my husband lying on the gurney, I would want someone to give him blood," she said.