Michael's Dispatches

A Hypothetical Interview General Martin Dempsey:

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18 February 2012

General Martin Dempsey is the highest-ranking member of the US military.  He directly advises the President.  Lieutenant General John Campbell is Chief of Army Operations.  A bigwig.  Both men have publicly supported keeping Red Crosses on MEDEVAC helicopters that come under direct fire in Afghanistan.

Removing the Red Crosses does not force us to arm the helicopters.  But why not take the common-sense step of removing the Red Crosses so as not to alert the enemy that the helicopters are unarmed?  Many people want to know the answer.

In response to growing public concerns, Campbell has been interviewed on CBS and FOX, while Dempsey has written directly to Congressman Todd Akin.  Both Dempsey and Campbell have underlined the fallacy that it’s a good idea to alert the enemy that our MEDEVAC helicopters are unarmed.

And so, this morning, I made an imaginary phone call to General Dempsey and we conducted this hypothetical discussion:

Michael Yon:  “Thank you General Dempsey for taking my call about Army MEDEVAC issues.”

General Dempsey: “I used to love your work before I started reading it.”

MY: “Thank you, Sir.  This call is being electronically recorded for future use.  Are you okay with this?

GD: “Yes.”

MY: “Let’s begin.  Both you and Lieutenant General John Campbell have highlighted that you believe Army Dustoff MEDEVAC helicopters should continue to wear Red Crosses.  Let’s suppose you decide never to arm the helicopters.  That’s a separate issue.  Do you believe that the crew of an unarmed helicopter should be forced to alert the enemy that they are unarmed?”

GD: “Well that’s a good question.  I’m glad you asked.  According to the Geneva Conventions, helicopters wearing Red Crosses are not allowed to carry offensive weapons.”

MY: “Sir, I’ll repeat the same question using different words.  Is it a good idea to alert the enemy that our helicopters are unarmed?  Even if you decide to continue to fly unarmed, why alert the enemy?”

GD: “The problem with arming Dustoff helicopters is that it adds weight, and in the high-hot conditions of Afghanistan, this can reduce our patient load.”

MY: “Sir, that was not the question.  I’ll repeat.  Why alert the enemy that we are unarmed?”

GD: “Michael, you repeatedly confuse the ideas of MEDEVAC versus CSAR.  CSAR is Combat Search and Rescue, and the Air Force Pedros do a fine job at CSAR.  Pedro also does a fantastic job augmenting Dustoff MEDEVAC duties in Afghanistan, but the fact is that the US Army is tasked to provide MEDEVAC, and as you yourself have written many times over the years, they perform magnificently.  Bringing CSAR into the discussion muddles our sincere objectives.”

MY: “Sir, is it a good idea to walk late at night through dangerous parts of Washington, DC, singing at the top of your lungs, ‘My pockets full o’ money!  I got lots an’ lots o’ money!  Big big money!  I ain’t got no gun, I ain’t got no knife, I cain’t run too fast ’cause my pockets full o’ lots an’ lots o’ money!’ Sir, is that a good idea?  Would you tell your grandkids to do that?”

GD: “Have you lost your mind?”

MY: “Sir, you are not answering a simple question.  Why do you force young troopers to go into combat while alerting the enemy they are unarmed?”

GD: “The applicable statements of the Geneva Conventions specifically spell out what is required and expected of signatories.   That the enemy behaves a certain way does not mean we need to behave that way.  The Geneva Conventions were written for a reason.  And it’s important not to confuse CASEVAC with MEDEVAC.  The US Army is tasked with providing MEDEVAC in Afghanistan, and they have a 92% success rate.”

MY: “Let’s circle back to that.  I’ll not touch the 92% ‘success rate.’  There is evidence that this is a fraudulent number.  That’s a separate and serious matter for another day.  But on to the second question: When landing by helicopter on some small bases in Afghanistan, you’re apt to see a sign that says, NO SALUTE.  What does NO SALUTE mean?”

GD: “Son, I thought you were in the Army.  No salute means that you are in a combat zone and therefore should not salute the officers.  Saluting tells the enemy who the officers are.”

MY: “General Dempsey, in other words, it’s not always a good idea to alert the enemy who is who on the battlefields.”

GD: “You get the picture. “

MY: “When you meet with the President, or go to the Congress, I’ve see you wearing bright shining stars on your shoulders.  Eight of them.  Four stars on each shoulder.  Yet when you go to Afghanistan, you wear black stars.   In Afghanistan, someone must be very close to see that you are a general.   Why is that?”

GD: “Well, that’s a silly question.  A high ranking officer doesn’t want to stand out on the battlefields.”

MY: “General Dempsey, you are what is called a ‘flag officer.’  What exactly is a flag officer?”

GD: “The short version is that a flag officer is a general or admiral who is authorized to wear a flag over his headquarters, or on his vehicle or aircraft."

MY: “When you are present at your office, your staff flies a red flag with four white stars to tell everyone the chief is in his teepee.  But if you jet off for the day, they take down that flashy flag while you are away.  Right?"

GD: “That’s right.”

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MY: “And your driver takes a little facsimile of those four stars and pops it onto the dashboard when you drive, right?”

GD: “It shortens lines.”

MY: “And sometimes flag officers have flags on their aircraft?”

GD: “It’s authorized.”

MY: “But you don’t advertise those stars in Afghanistan, do you?”

GD: “That would be a bad idea.”

MY: “General Dempsey, the motto of the infantry is ‘Follow Me!’ Were you an infantry officer?”

GD: “My branch was armor.”

MY: “Have you heard the motto ‘Follow Me!’?”

GD: “Our military leadership lives by that motto.”

MY: “General Dempsey, when you buzz around Afghanistan, you fly in heavily armed, unmarked helicopters.  All the senior leadership does this.  I see them.  On the small bases, your stars are black and nobody is to salute you.  You are surrounded by security, including additional air support, often in the form of F-16s, A-10s, Apaches, and Kiowa Warriors.  Despite all these protections, and going incognito, you will not be landing on hot LZs.  Yet that is exactly what we expect of Dustoff MEDEVAC crews.  The fact that Dustoff are even going to an LZ means that it’s probably hot or very high risk.”

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MY: “Sir, let’s get back to the only question I’ve wanted you to answer.  The only question I care about today: “Why do you force young people to go into combat unarmed, while alerting the enemy by wearing Red Crosses?”

(Photo Credits: US Army)

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