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Is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs a Liar?

    "Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments." - Sidney Hook

RE:  Mike Yon is totally wrong about the Geneva Conventions

First, see the above link to see that we are not in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Next, there is a huge propaganda push to arm Army MEDEVAC helicopters remove the red crosses that identify them as such.  The idea being that in arming the helicopters and removing the red crosses, these assets can get to our wounded much faster.  The movement has even gained the attention of 17 (out of 535) Congressmen and forced both the Army and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to respond.

Medevac 504031_q75Photo by Spc. Austin Berner, Afghanistan

The latest story comes out of the Washington Post and I’d like to take a few moments to respond to this particular story since it incorporates many of the inaccuracies of the others. 

But the rescue aircraft was unarmed, as are all Army medevacs. And the pre-dawn pickup zone in the Zhari district of Kandahar province was considered “hot,” or dangerous, meaning the medevac could not swoop in for the pickup until another chopper with firepower arrived to provide cover.

What the story doesn’t mention is that few, if any, choppers will land in a “hot” LZ.  The reality of war is that troops are trained in lifesaving measures because during combat, it won’t always be possible to extract the patient right away.  Even if the MEDEVAC bird was armed, it wouldn’t have “swooped in for the pickup” until the LZ was cleared.  The theory, I suppose, is that the armed MEDEVAC bird would seek out and destroy the enemy prior to landing to pick up its patients.

This, for those of us with military backgrounds, is obviously nonsense (as Medevac armament would most likely only be good enough for defense). 

Once a theoretically armed MEDEVAC lands to extract patients, those guns are no longer a viable presence.  Because they are door guns, the patients and friendlies defending the LZ would very well be in the line of fire.  So, now you have an armed MEDEVAC chopper sitting there, with fewer resources to treat patients, and gunners idle. 

Medevac 504034_q75Photo by SPC Austin Berner, Afghanistan

Even if we arm the MEDEVAC birds, they can’t travel alone.  They still need an armed escort.  So, assuming all MEDEVAC birds are armed, now you’re using TWO of them to extract patients instead of one with another armed platform.  This raises the risk that if another MEDEVAC bird is needed elsewhere, it won’t be available because it’s now providing cover for its own partner.

In Clark’s case, the military says there was a delay in determining whether any armed escort helicopters already in the air could be diverted to the scene. It’s unclear how long that lasted and whether it made a difference. Army officials said they could not disclose the time Clark died because of a policy not to reveal medical information about casualties.

This is always the case and happens with EVERY combat asset in the military inventory.  Any time an event occurs, there are procedures in place to ensure that the right assets are used in responding to the event.  In this case, as in all cases, the operators receiving the 9-line MEDEVAC request look to see which assets can get to the scene in the quickest amount of time.  Obviously, a chopper in the air is easier to divert than one that needs to dispatch a crew, run up the chopper, and take off – a process that takes an average 10 minutes (yes, even for MEDEVAC birds). 

Unlike the Army medevacs, which are emblazoned with red crosses, the Air Force, Special Operations Command and the British fly search-and-rescue and medevac missions with armed aircraft. They do not have red crosses, which can be displayed only on unarmed aircraft, according to the Geneva Conventions.

Of all the things being written about this issue, this is the one that angers most Army troops and crew members.  Army MEDEVAC choppers have a completely different mission than the Air Force and Special Operations.  Heck, if we were going to base regular Army assets against everything Special Forces did, we wouldn’t need Special Forces.

The Air Force DOES NOT HAVE an organic MEDEVAC asset.  The Air Force is assigned the mission of CASEVAC.  Here is a great explanation of the difference between MEDEVAC and CASEVAC:

CASEVAC uses non standardized and non dedicated vehicles that do not provide en route care. The service exists to transport casualties that are in dire need for evacuation from the battlefield and do not have time to wait on a MEDEVAC, or where a MEDEVAC is unable to get to the casualty. Essentially it is any helicopter or vehicle that can get into an area and evacuate an injured member with or without a medical crew and/or equipment.

According to AFTTP3-42.5  Casualty evacuation (CASEVAC), a term used by all Services, refers to
the movement of unregulated casualties aboard vehicles or aircraft.

The Army has a long history of medevac via helicopter starting with the 57th Medical Detachment back in 1962. The history of the DUSTOFF mission can be found on their website http://www.dustoff.org/history/history.htm

DUSTOFF is a standardized and dedicated vehicle providing en route care. They are traditionally on UH-1 Huey’s and UH-60’s Blackhawks. They can be easily identified with the Red Cross symbol on the nose and sides of the helicopter. One other identifiable mark with medevac’s is they do not have gunners aboard like the Air Force medics had. DUSTOFF medics are extremely skilled at what they do and are highly regarded as some of the best medics around. For more information about DUSTOFF, please visit www.dustoff.org.

According to AFTTP3-42.5 Medical evacuation
(MEDEVAC), on the other hand, traditionally refers to US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or
Coast Guard patient movement using predesignated tactical or logistic aircraft temporarily
equipped and staffed for en route care. MEDEVAC has generally implied the use of rotarywing
aircraft with medical attendants (MA).

Air Force Medevac
The Air Force doesn’t traditionally fill a medevac role but in 2006 the Army asked the Air Force to help with its medevac mission, it was considered an in-lieu-of deployment. The first medics that took on this responsibility were then TSgt Mark D. and TSgt Shawn B.. In order to fill the role, they needed to qualify on the helicopter and attend survival school.

Because the Air Force normally doesn't carry out the medevac mission, it doesn't have a helicopter designed for that purpose. This meant the flight medics had to make do with what they had, the HH-60 Pave Hawk, a helicopter the Air Force uses for combat search and rescue missions. It, too, is a distant relative of the Army's Black Hawk.

So, to compare Army MEDEVAC assets to any other service is downright inaccurate, but to compare a single asset to a foreign military is just inventing reasons for the sake of arguing.  The article then continues, as do many others:

The Army boasts that a service member wounded in Afghanistan currently stands a 92 percent chance of surviving — the best rate of any war.

Clark was among the 8 percent who didn’t.

This is the part that is hardest to respond to.  Soldiers live with the grim realization that they may not come back when they’re shipped to a war zone.  The entire point of war, after all, is to kill the enemy.  When it’s all boiled down, that is the goal.  The enemy has the same goal and our troops understand that they may die going where our country sends us. 

Don’t get me wrong; that doesn’t mean that we should accept every death as an unpreventable death.  But, the fact remains – in war, Soldiers die.  Marines die.  Airmen die.  Sailors die.  My brothers and sisters in arms die.  I have lost three of the best friends a guy could have, so I understand the pain of losing a loved one in combat.  There are a lot of questions from those left to deal with the void in their lives. 

Medevac 504030_q75U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Melton from Heidelberg, Germany, assigned to 3rd Platoon, The "All American" Dustoff, 82nd Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C., goes through the start up procedures for his UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter, Forward Operating Base Shank, Logar province, Afghanistan, Dec. 19, 201.  Photo by SPC Austin Berner.

No one can say with any degree of certainty if Clark would have survived if the chopper got there 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes earlier.  Anyone that does should be worshipped for their godlike prognostication abilities.

In Clark’s case, had the medevac been armed, it could have had Clark airborne and flying to a hospital within 12 minutes of his unit calling for a medevac, Yon said.

This is a patently false argument that anyone could easily counter.  It takes about that long just to dispatch a MEDEVAC to begin with.  The assertion that Clark could have been at the hospital within 30-35 minutes would be laughable if the subject matter weren’t so serious.  It took nine minutes just to pass up the first three lines of the 9-line MEDEVAC!  That means that the MEDEVAC crew would have had to gear up, start the chopper, run through the procedures and get to the LZ within 3 minutes to meet that assumption.  It is just simply impossible.

Here’s the main problem with the argument as it’s being presented: it’s too narrow and rigidly focused.  The argument only presents basically one solution – arm the MEDEVAC choppers.  This is an ill-conceived solution and ignores reality. 

Think about it honestly.  How would removing the red crosses from the birds improve response time?  It won’t.  It probably won’t decrease or increase the amount of fire directed at it from the enemy.  In wars past, the enemy knew the Red Crosses meant the bird was unarmed.  So, we can remove them.  That doesn't make them any faster.

The truth is that removing the crosses is simply the first step of the real agenda to arm MEDEVAC birds.  You can’t do that until you remove the crosses.  So, then the question becomes, will arming the MEDEVACs improve response time? 

No, it won’t and here’s why.

Let’s say we arm MEDEVAC birds.  They will still need another chopper escort to get into hot LZs.  Where does that bird come from? 

Is it just another MEDEVAC bird? 

If that’s the case, now we’re dedicating two MEDEVAC birds to a mission which takes away that bird from other missions. 

They still need to clear the LZ first so the bird is not landing, but buzzing the extraction site until it’s clear.  And, as stated previously, that armed MEDEVAC, once it lands, becomes useless in the defense of the LZ.  So, we’re back to square one.

Medevac 504037_q75U.S. Army Spc. Carl Jenson, from Sierra Vista, Ariz., assigned to 3rd Platoon, The "All American" Dustoff, 82nd Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C., checks the patient's heart rate while flying over Wardak province, Afghanistan, Dec. 19, 2011.Photo by SPC Austin Berner.

We’re missing the big picture here.  You will NOT find a single member of the military that doesn’t want to improve response time.  To a troop on the ground, MEDEVACs never get there fast enough. 

This isn’t a matter of we’re fine with things the way they are.  If we’re meeting the 60-minute “Golden Hour”, let’s try to achieve a 45-minute goal.  Then let’s work on 30, etc.  But, we have to be level-headed about this and not push for policies that are based on someone's agenda, premature, and incorrect.  These types of decisions are life and death. 

There are other options that are not being discussed. 

For example, if we have forward deployed MEDEVAC units, why not have forward deployed attack choppers to escort them?  The problem then becomes you’re taking out attack aircraft from the battlefield to support the MEDEVAC mission. 

What about converting some MEDEVAC choppers to CASEVAC choppers?  Then, of course, you reduce the MEDEVAC capabilities on the battlefield. 

How about adding more MEDEVAC and attack aircraft to the battle space?  Well, as a former paratrooper, I'd love to see more air assets (including warthogs) but that goes against the administration’s plans to draw down forces here. 

This isn’t a fly-by-night decision that needs to be made by Congressmen listening to a shrill voice accusing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Army Chief of lying. 

Options have to be weighed and risks assessed properly.  Commanders want to bring all their troops home.  Medics want to save every casualty.  But, this is war, and the enemy gets a vote in how every plan goes into effect. 

The media needs to stop regurgitating what is fed to them and do some research on their stories.  This isn’t a two sided story. 

Also, armed HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters equipped with door guns that were parked in Kandahar at the time could have picked up Clark and delivered him to a hospital in fewer than 35 minutes, he said. These helicopters often assist with medevac missions, but their primary mission is for personnel rescue and recovery.

Even if true, this ignores the fact that military chooses the FASTEST mode of transport to an LZ.  Obviously, the military determined that, if Pave Hawk helicopters were actually at KAF, they weren’t as close as the MEDEVAC bird at the FOB.  However, this is just an assumption.  The author provides no evidence that any Pedros were at KAF ready to roll and relies upon assumptions.  And Pedros can't transport as many casaulties as a MEDEVAC can.  They are built to rescue pilots that have crashed/been shot down behind enemy lines.  But, let’s keep going and roll with the story's timeline of 35 minutes.

When General Dempsey says that “it is a misperception that delays in evacuation are caused by the policy to mark MEDEVAC aircraft with red crosses,” he’s not lying.  He’s not being political, and he’s not trying to hide anything.  The Army is the only Service that is dedicated to this essential mission. In fact, other uninformed bloggers claim that the Marines don't do Medevac.  That part is correct.  However, to assume that's because "The U.S. Marine Corps doesn’t do business this way" is incorrect.  That is because the Army provides that service for the Marines, Navy, and Air Force.  Just like the Marines don't do CSAR - because the USAF has the lead on that.  Not because they don't do business that way. 

Those are the deliniations.  I don't make them up.

There are some Medevac pilots that I talked to that fear that if the Medevacs lose the red crosses that they will be used for other purposes. That's probably true (knowing the Army), but not a show stopper.  They also would rather have gunship escorts to get the enemy's attention and surpress them.  Some have told me of missions where they had to stop to drop off equipment to lighten up for high altitude missions so weight is an issue, too.

And the Flag Officers are not in contempt of congress, and they don’t mislead the American public by correcting misrepresentations by both the media and "independent journalists."

This is one of those emotional issues that is easy to get people stirred about.  Some have used emotion or the emotions of Gold Star parents to further their agendas with respect to this issue. 

Many of these stories reference a video by Michael Yon as “proof” of his position.  However, the video is heavily edited and Mr. Yon has not released an unedited version to anyone.  Much of this argument would go away if the entire video was released, regardless of whether or not the White House or Pentagon refused a copy of it.  What reason could there by that Mr. Yon hasn't released the entire video to the media, bloggers, or other opponents of his argument?

And Mr. Yon accuses honorable Flag Officers of being liars in this case (and in others).  As an "independent journalist" who routinely deletes comments that disagree with his viewpoint (including his own comments), we should be careful and be sure our responses are measured, thoughtful, and concise - we should answer his arguments.  And certainly, we are disappointed that his level of reporting went from combat POV to shrill to just plain strange.

Get rid of the BS "golden hour".  Unless it's 100% survivability in that hour, it's a ridiculous term and certainly not "golden".  Call it the "92% hour."

We should evaluate how many Medevacs got shot down versus the 8% of wounded that didn't make it.  We should unemotionally question the commanders of the Medevac units on the number of missions delayed due to lack of gunship escort.  Then, for those delayed missions, we should ask them what missions they would accept with armed Medevacs instead.

And go ahead and remove the crosses, arm the birds...Do it when you can ensure that the Medevacs can carry as many patients and give the same level of amazing care that they do now. 

Do it when you can be assured that you're not taking combat assets or medical assets off of the table (in an environment where they exist less and are needed more). 

Do it in order to reduce the time it takes to save an American's life. 

Do it after making sure that, at altitude, the extra weight isn't an issue.

But don't do it because of an internet bully.


Update:  A few examples of the necessity of Apaches as escorts is provided in an update here.