Commentary by Maj. James Austin
21st Space Operations Squadron
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. — Late last year, the 50th Space Wing lost a great Airman to leukemia. People may have said to themselves, “That’s a tragedy. Too bad there wasn’t something I could do to help.” This call to action spurred the 21st Space Operations Squadron to host a base wide bone marrow drive. Our goal was to enroll as many active-duty members, dependents and Department of Defense civilians in the C. W. Bill Young Marrow Donor registry in an attempt to prevent this tragedy from occurring again. The C. W. Bill Young Marrow Donor registry is where DOD would-be donors can submit a DNA swab (it’s painless) to register themselves as a potential donor for a current or future patient.
To start the campaign, we coordinated with base agencies, briefed Vandenberg Air Force Base senior leadership and solicited volunteers from various squadrons and agencies on base. Along the way, we met other people who had stories to tell of their successful marrow donations or the tragedy of standing by helpless while a friend or relative suffered. Overall, the unit did an amazing job of spreading the word and encouraging people from all walks of life to put their name in the DOD registry. At the end of the drive, 495 Vandenberg personnel took a few minutes out of their busy day to potentially save someone else’s life in the future.
For potential donors, we reminded them that your body makes bone marrow all the time. And although pain with donating marrow is usually very limited and temporary, the pain and suffering for the recipient may last the rest of their life. Potential donors are asked many times if they are willing and able to proceed with the procedure. We assured folks if you sign up now and are later contacted, you’re always afforded the opportunity to decline if your personal situation has changed.
As we talked with the donation coordinator at the C. W. Bill Young Marrow Donor registry we learned there were at least three other Army and Air Force bases conducting active drives for military or civilian members in desperate need. There are tens of thousands of people annually that need a donor and wait for one to be identified. Advances in medical technology have allowed donors to return to duty as quickly as the next day and also be back on worldwide deployable status in just a few weeks.
Nothing we can do will bring back a lost coworker or loved one, but taking five minutes to put your name on a list to be a bone marrow donor could make all the difference in the world to someone else. The life you save may be that of a friend, coworker, family member or complete stranger. With 28,000+ Air Force Space Command wingmen, we can take a stand and potentially save a life. Call 1-800-MARROW-3, visit https://www.salutetolife.org/ or stop by your clinic or hospital to see how you can register and take the first step.