Everyone is familiar with blood transfusions and donations. Typically, these types of activities are envisioned taking place in sterile operating rooms or at least in controlled environments. Well, imagine conducting blood donations and transfusions on the battlefield. This has become a standard training and operating practice for special operations combat medics.

Not too long ago, a wounded patient would not receive a blood transfusion until they would arrive at a medical unit or, at minimum, until they would be loaded onto a medevac helicopter with highly qualified medics. Medics would carry IV bags containing Hextend and Tranexamic acid (TXA), used for fluid resuscitation and blood loss mitigation for patients in hemorrhagic shock (i.e. for someone who had lost a lot of blood). Even with high-speed life-saving capabilities, there were operators still dying from wounds that they may have otherwise survived if they had received supplemental blood sooner. According to the Army Blood Program, it is estimated that 90 percent of preventable deaths in combat are due to blood loss.

The Limits of Blood Transfusions in Combat

A successful blood transfusion on the battlefield requires the documentation of the troops' blood type.
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Bryan Pascacio, with I Marine Expeditionary Force, seeks a vein to insert a needle during Valkyrie Emergency Whole Blood Transfusion Training program at Camp Pendleton, California, May 14, 2020. (Photo by Cpl. Anabel Abreu Rodriguez/USMC)

It is no secret that the fundamental way to save the life of a person who has lost a lot of blood is to first stop the bleeding and then give them more blood. This basic reality is why the Special Operations Combat Medic course now trains operators on how to conduct a blood transfusion in the field.

In any special operations unit, it is critical for the medic to document the blood type of each team member. Of course, in cool guy pictures and movies, you often see guys’ blood types velcroed to their helmets, kits, and shoulder patches. This isn’t just to look “cool.” It is a life-saving technique used by medics on the ground, medevac aircrews, and surgeons.