Skip navigation

Estonian Defense Forces joined the “Walking Blood Bank” programme in Iraq

Estonian Defense Forces unit Estcoy-18, on deployment in Iraq, have joined the Walking Blood Bank, a medical program of the United States Armed Forces that has saved many lives over decades. Estonia became the first allied nation to join, registering their soldiers in Erbil Air Base who would immediately come to donate blood when called upon.

“The Walking Blood Bank has been used for the past 20 years in the Middle-East and other areas. This was primarily used to involve only U.S. forces, but as we have worked with more partnerships with NATO countries, the leaders of the Operation Inherent Resolve have decided that it’s important to that we utilize everybody’s help. And this was the first time ever that coalition forces has been screened to be participants of The Walking Blood Bank. It is groundbraking,” said Lieutenant Commander Greg Woelfel, an emergency medicine physician in the United States Navy stationed at Erbil Air Base.

Lieutenant Commander Woelfel added that the program is important because there are many people in this base in particular, from many different coalition forces that are participating in Operation Inherent Resolve. If the base were to have any kind of mass casualty event, the blood supply would run low quickly. So that blood supply from Walking Blood Bank donors helps to save lives.

The Estonian Defense Forces joined the Walking Blood Bank program as the first allied nation. The Estonian soldiers serving in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq registered themselves as immediate donors and were screened for blood compatibility to confirm their eligibility as donors.

All coalition forces service members with blood type 0, serving on location for at least three more months, can voluntarily register as donors and thus be immediately ready to donate blood to save the lives of casualties if needed. Blood type 0 is the most universal among all blood groups and can be transfused to patients with other blood types as well. Registered donors with previously confirmed compatible blood are called upon to donate blood immediately only in cases where there is a risk of  running out of blood supply. Since military medics generally do not carry blood supplies in amount comparable to civilian hospitals, such occasions have occurred before and donors have saved many lives through the program. Donor blood from the Walking Blood Bank has also been used in Operation Inherent Resolve in Erbil. The opportunity to use donor blood in this form was particularly crucial in military operations in Afghanistan, where Estonian soldiers have also served.

“Just for numbers today, we increased the blood donor pool today by almost a 100%, which is a fantastic number,” said Dr. Woelfel, appreciating the fact that the Estonians were the first to join the Walking Blood Bank. “We really appreciate the cooperation and help today from our partners from Estonia. This was absolutely fantastic opportunity to work together and we couldn’t have done it without you, so thank you very much!”.

The full blood screening that comes with registering as a donor also provides the participant with a comprehensive overview of their blood indicators, introduced by local medic to each participant under strict confidentiality. This allows individuals to obtain a high-quality analysis-based overview of their health status.

Blood donation is common among Estonian Defense Forces personnel, both conscripts and active-duty members, and it is a regular activity when serving domestically. The Blood Center organizes regular blood donation days in different military bases in Estonia.

The tasks of Estonian Defense Forces unit serving in Iraq include manning the base defense and quick response force unit, as well as providing security detachment for advisors visiting Iraqi security forces during advisory and other activities outside the Erbil Air Base.

The goal of the U.S. led Operation Inherent Resolve is to advise and support local security forces in their fight against the Islamic group Daesh in order to create conditions for further security cooperation. Estonia’s participation in the operation demonstrates its readiness to support its allies and contribute to security efforts in areas where there are significant security threats to European and NATO member states.


Scroll to top