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Commentary | June 13, 2012

The greatest gift: An Airman's experience donating blood

By Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

"Your blood donation is a precious gift of life."

These words stood out as I read the preliminary-donation guidelines every donor must look over prior to giving blood. It resonated deeply with me as I sat at the Langley Air Force Base Chapel Annex Building on a recent muggy afternoon. I have always readily donated blood when the opportunity is available, but I never truly thought of my donation as a precious gift, until now.

While getting my vitals checked, I flipped through information on the Armed Forces Blood Program. As the Department of Defense's sole blood-donor program, it is responsible for all active-duty personnel worldwide, and also supports needs of U.S Air Force Hospital Langley.

This information stopped me cold.

Prior to my enlistment, I always donated blood without question, but I have always boiled it down to doing the right thing. While giving blood is the right thing to do, I never put faces or identities to the three lives my donation could save. Every time it has been for a nameless person somewhere in the world I would never get the chance to meet.

The realization that this blood -my blood- will be used to save the lives of fellow Service members truly left me speechless. The crushing truth that I could be saving a friend, co-worker or a fellow warrior in a faraway corner of the world gave meaning to something I never thought to give meaning to before.

With my blood pressure and heart rate checked, I grabbed my things and walked outside to the mobile donation center.

As I opened the door to the R.V., I was warmly greeted and ushered toward the back of the mobile center for my final screening before the donation.

I took off my uniform top before sitting down in the small screening room, glad to be in the mobile center's cool air conditioning. The Navy hospitalman slid the door closed behind me, asked a series of simple questions to ensure my blood was up to par with the high standards required for all donations.

With the questions out of the way, it was the moment of truth, the choice between two near -identical labels. This decision may seem mundane without context, but the choice was an important one.

The sticker I placed on the official donation form would give my stamp of approval, or would indicate that the blood was ineligible for use due to the criteria posted on the desk in front of me.

The hospitalman left me alone with my decision in the screening room, closing the door behind him. He left so I could make my decision away from the watchful eyes of any potential spectators.

Although the choice was obvious, the gesture showed that the program was not interested in getting donations through peer pressure. The act of giving me a chance to back out while still saving face, the program showed that its only interest is helping people in need, not meeting a quota.

I put the appropriate label on my form, and slapped the "do not use" label on the wall behind me along with a cluster of unused labels.

I opened the door and walked with purpose toward the front of the R.V. I was directed by a technician to sit in a chair as I handed him my form. I sat down in the well-padded chair, and swung my legs onto it. The technician handed me a foam ball and told me to make a fist as he prepared the needle.

The antiseptic pad was cold against my skin as the technician disinfected the crook of my arm. He slid the needle into my vein with the deft precision of an expert. The pinch that came with the needle was over as fast as it came and the clear plastic tubing turned scarlet within seconds. The foam ball rested in my hand as I squeezed it rhythmically every three to five seconds.

Within five minutes I was disentangled from the tubing and the needle was gently removed. I held the gauze to my arm as I raised it above my head. The technician wrapped my arm before I slowly slid out of the chair, and was instructed to walk over to the snack area and sit to ensure I was feeling well.

Fifteen minutes, one granola bar and a bottle of water later, I left the R.V. with the thanks of the technicians and hospitalmen still dancing in my ears.

As I walked down those fold-out stairs, feeling confident in my manhood with my pink arm wrap, I left with a smile knowing that I gave the greatest gift a person can give; the precious gift of life.