Golden Seconds

Open Letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
and President Barack Obama

Pedro-1000US Air Force "Pedro" helicopter

24 October 2011

Gentlemen,

For the last seven years I have written about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I have covered the US Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy.  I’ve also covered the British, Lithuanian, Afghan and Iraqi forces, among others, in places ranging from Iraq to the Philippines and beyond.  My most recent embed in Afghanistan was at personal invitation from then-General David Petraeus.  It is said that I have spent more time with American combat forces than any writer in US history.  I do not know if this is true, but it’s got to be close.  I’ve written three books and probably a thousand articles.  My work is known worldwide.

On 12 October, I published a dispatch called “Red Air,” detailing policy shortcomings with US Army Dustoff MEDEVAC procedures.  The kernel of the matter is that under the Geneva Conventions, when our Army “Dustoff” MEDEVAC helicopters wear red crosses, they are forbidden to be armed.  If they do not wear red crosses, they can be armed.

The Taliban and other enemies in Afghanistan regularly fire upon and hit our helicopters.  In Afghanistan, a red cross means “Shoot me; I’m defenseless.”  We’d have a better chance warding off vampires with crucifixes.

This battlefield reality causes commanders to send Apache attack helicopters as top cover for the Army Dustoff MEDEVAC helicopters. Yet with perpetual shortages of helicopters in Afghanistan, this leads to delays in evacuating terribly wounded troopers.  Importantly, US Air Force, Marines, and the British flying in the same areas do not wear red crosses and are armed.  Only the US Army, not the Geneva Conventions, is preventing Dustoffs from using machine guns.  Meanwhile, we require yet more helicopters to perform top cover, adding to helicopter stresses, causing delays, and pulling the Apaches away from other fights.

When I exposed this travesty in “Red Air,” military HQ in Kabul responded with a statement addressing alleged discrepancies in my work, requesting that I publish their letter.  Sadly for them, they must not have realized that I made high-resolution video/audio of a recent MEDEVAC failure.  The reply from HQ was anonymous, and so I responded to the ISAF HQ Press Office: “Put a General's name on this and I'll publish ASAP.”

If the Army, in particular, believes in the veracity of its position, a high-ranking person should stand behind the assertions and allegations.  Otherwise, as one Air Force Pedro pilot with 420 missions in Afghanistan would write to me a few days ago, it’s just “chaff.”

With nobody supporting the statement, let’s forget about the bulk of the orphaned missive and go straight to the salient points:

“Yon's point that the Army should arm and remove the red cross from its MEDEVAC aircraft fails to acknowledge larger issues.  Doing so would place the US outside its commitment to conducting MEDEVACs under the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions and moral norm for how Western nations identify their aircraft dedicated to medical evacuation.”

The so-called “moral norm” has nothing to do with the realities of our decade-long war in Afghanistan.  This statement is prima facie asinine and demonstrates a complete break with realities in Afghanistan.

Key point: Army medics do not wear red crosses.  They carry rifles.  Separately, we have military medical staff in Kabul who are wearing weapons while in the operating rooms.  None wear crosses.  Down in Kandahar Province, I recently sat alone on guard duty with a medic in an excellent unit known as 4-4 Cav.  There were several machine guns in front of him.  This inconsistency alone is enough to unravel the Army argument.

Army policy makers are not upholding the Geneva Conventions, but hiding behind them.  There is a power struggle within the Army about who controls those helicopters.  The red crosses are being used as crucifixes to ward off change.

As mentioned, the US Air Force, Marines, and British all fly without the red crosses, and nothing precludes the US Army—in this helicopter-deprived war—from removing its crosses.  In the event that we go to war with a more reasonable country, such as Canada, we can repaint the crosses, though there is no obligation.  In Afghanistan, the Marines perform helicopter evacuations with assets available.  Guaranteed they will have machine guns.  Likewise, Air Force helicopters come in with hot guns.  Nothing is stopping the Army but the Army itself, and the internal politics of who controls the Dustoff helicopters.  Secondarily, those who sell or control Apache helicopters have a vested interest in keeping Dustoffs unarmed.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told me personally that he instituted a 60-minute time limit to get wounded troopers from the battlefield to a hospital. It is noteworthy that the military required a directive from Secretary Gates before meeting these standards.  One might erroneously assume that the US military would act in the best interest of its own troops without being ordered.  This was not the case.

Remember Walter Reed

Major cover-ups are too numerous to track.  Earlier in the war, gross negligence at Army medical facilities was revealed by the press, leading to a purge of leadership, including the resignation of Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey.

Many people will remember the cover-ups revolving around Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch, and Abu Ghraib.  We should not expect a more honest Army when it comes to Dustoffs.  To admit the mistake now would be to admit the mistake was not corrected for ten years.

On the whole, the military has met Secretary Gates’ MEDEVAC directive with exemplary performance, yet a small number of informed observers can sense hocus pocus with the numbers.

For instance, after an attack requiring medical evacuation, the unit in combat must transmit a “9-line” report to HQ.  Only then does the clock start running for the 60-minute directive.  If fire departments waited for specific details for every call, their response times would look more impressive, but many people would die.

In combat, actions on the ground can be stressful, causing a delay in the 9-line even though the unit in contact may have immediately radioed that there is a triple amputation.  We also have extreme issues with communications at times.  I’ve watched people attempt for hours to establish comms with elements just a few miles away.  But that’s another story.  There should be no need to wait for paperwork to launch distant helicopters when it’s already confirmed that a 9-line is forthcoming.  During the attack described herein, to which I was witness, the 9-line went up quickly due to the calm and quick actions of men of 4-4 Cav, and in particular one Lieutenant Jonathan Flores who did an excellent job.  Flores transmitted the 9-line in about six minutes.  In reality, the helicopters could have been dispatched immediately upon confirmation of the nature of the wounds.  Our location was known.  Other times, 9-lines can take much longer due to firefights or other distractions, and so the helicopters will sit on the runway “hot cocked” and ready to spin up.  The clock is not yet ticking because the 9-line has not arrived.

Golden Seconds

The enemies in Afghanistan often conduct “complex attacks” with multiple, simultaneous raids or ambushes.  When the enemy senses they have created Coalition casualties—often easy to observe with IED strikes—they try to predict where our helicopters will land.  For years now, they have tried to predict and prepare the landing zones before the attack unfolds.

During the IED ambush in which Chazray Clark was wounded (see Red Air), the enemy could easily have predicted and then positively ascertained our LZ by simple observation.  We had arrived under darkness via helicopters, then moved into the village where Chazray triggered the first bomb. The loud explosion would have been audible for miles.

The enemy is courageous, tactically nimble, and skilled at developing and exploiting advantages.  They understand our tactics and we understand theirs.  After our helicopter insertion and the bomb strike on Chazray, the enemy would be operating in a heightened state of alert.

The Golden Hour is crucial to survival of the seriously wounded.  There also are Golden Minutes.  The already-bleeding wounded are not the only ones in danger.  The casualties provide a golden opportunity for the enemy to shoot down a helicopter and attack the preoccupied ground force.  For the incoming helicopters, and ground forces in combat, minutes are crucial.  Delay provides opportunity for the enemy to prepare to attack the helicopter, or in the case of Chazray Clark, ground forces waited on an open LZ for close to half an hour believing the helicopter would arrive quickly.

In that area, known as Zhari District, the enemy employs numerous weapons that can take down a helicopter.  The powerful 82mm recoilless rifles regularly destroy our heavily armored vehicles.  One shot from an 82 and the helicopter is finished.  The far-less-powerful RPG will also do the job.

The failure I videotaped occurred in September 2011.  The month before, 38 people including a SEAL team died when an RPG downed their helicopter.  The investigation led by Brigadier General Jeffrey Colt would conclude, “The shoot down was not the result of a baited ambush, but rather the result of the enemy being at a heightened state of alert…”

In regard to MEDEVAC, the Army contends that top cover from Apache attack helicopters can replace, or are superior to, machine guns on Dustoffs.  Veterans of ground combat will scoff at the notion.  Furthermore, putting machine guns on Dustoffs does not exclude piling on Apache top cover.  But waiting for that top cover can prove lethal to the patients, Dustoff crews, and ground forces in contact.

Apache helicopters and other assets were providing top cover when the shoot down occurred that killed 38 people.  The enemy can fire from cover or concealment that an Apache, UAV, AC-130, or jets cannot see or even hit.  Even when the enemy is visible to the Apache, there will be endless tactical variants when the pilot cannot possibly react quickly enough to provide preemptive or interruptive covering fire.  Other times, the enemy may be too close (or at a bad angle) to the landing helicopter for response from top cover.  Dustoffs have landed in towns, cities, or in depressed areas such as valleys where the enemy can fire down or peer-to-peer in such a way that Apache cover can be mitigated or irrelevant.  The enemy often comes from holes, such as a karez entrance, or from under foliage where they are invisible even to our superior optics until the moment they use hot weapons.  When they fire machine guns or grenades from inside of buildings, they may remain invisible from above even while firing.  The helicopter roaring in for a landing will often be in a dueling situation with a hidden enemy wherein the result may bear true the maxim: “There are the quick, and the dead.”

When a helicopter is coming into a hot LZ, the idea of Golden Hours or Golden Minutes as measurement would be like using miles and hours to measure the distance and duration of a cobra strike.  The strike will be close with sudden results.  A man in the bush would not wear a crucifix to fend off cobras, and he would not use Apache helicopters to defend against the fangs; he would carry a shotgun.  The cobra is drawn to the red cross.  He knows that if he can stay hidden, he will get at least one strike – probably more – before the Apache can fire.

As the helicopter lands on a hot LZ, it’s literally down to the speed of the trigger fingers, the skills of the fighters, and luck.  The enemy often uses PKM machine guns—every wasted second can mean roughly ten enemy bullets from a single machine gun.

According to the investigation into the August shoot down,

“…as [the helicopter] neared the landing zone from the northwest.  A previously undetected group of suspected Taliban fired two or three RPGs in rapid succession from the tower of a two story mud-brick building approximately 220 meters south of the CH-47D.  The first RPG missed the helicopter, but the second RPG struck one of the blades of the aft rotor assembly and exploded…”  The report continues: “The destruction of the CH-47D rotor system from the rocket propelled grenade until the helicopter crash into the creek bed, likely lasted less than 5 seconds.”

And that was it: Mission failure.  38 people dead.  Helicopter destroyed.

Neither the AC-130, the surveillance aircraft, the Apaches, or machine guns on the destroyed aircraft were able to prevent the RPG shots.  The enemy got off at least two rocket shots, possibly three, and the Apache did not fire until everyone was down in flames.  With burning wreckage on the deck, an Apache comes into action.  According to the investigation:

“Fire support and surveillance assets immediately shifted focus to the crash site, and one AH-64 Apache helicopter fired 30mm rounds just west of the suspected RPG point of origin to suppress any potential enemy activity in the vicinity of the crash site.”

The idea that crosses and Apaches can protect Dustoffs is a US Army-manufactured fallacy.  This policy grinds down our battle tempo and creates a need for more helicopters.  Of course, those people who sell helicopters and helicopter parts, or who get to command all those extra forces and assets, will be tempted to proselytize the need for crosses.  Purists who only want to win battles will be called heretics.

Combat troops vociferously complain about the delay between the casualty, the 9-line, and wheels-down at the LZ.  Meanwhile, the Army haggles over accounting, and advertises 60 minutes as a success.  Any minute longer than the minimum required to land and get out is one minute tempting fate with an enemy who moves fast, and in Zhari District the enemy also shoots straight.  During one ambush on 4-4 Cav, the enemy took out three armored vehicles in about thirty seconds using recoilless rifles.

While waiting on a Dustoff to pick up Chazray Clark, an officer can be heard on my video asking about the bird, saying it’s been 45 minutes since the first call.  A lieutenant next to me said this is the second time this has happened.

In Zhari, the enemy often fires grenades, and after they know the LZ, every minute we waited there was an invitation for grenades to begin falling.  In addition to the reality that Chazray was wide awake and dying, and that the enemy could be preparing to attack the helicopter, they were using the time to prepare to attack us as we left the LZ.  Later in the morning, I would photograph what was almost certainly an IED position that the enemy did not quite get into place in time.  Our EOD and other troops found myriad bombs in the abandoned village.  Chazray died at Kandahar Airfield, landing approximately 65 minutes after the attack.  Pedros or armed Dustoffs could have had Chazray to the hospital in about 35 minutes, which also would have unlocked the unit from the LZ to wrestle initiative back from the enemy.

The Army’s next fallback will be that arming the Dustoffs reduces their load capacity.  This is true.  But again, experienced pilots with hundreds of combat missions will say—and I know from being there—that loads are not the problem.  Speed and machine guns are the problem.

After the Dustoff picked up Chazray, we headed into the village.  It was rigged so fully with bombs that we didn’t get far.  There were minor small-arms fights.  Though we never made it far from the LZ due to all the bombs, the next afternoon there was another BOOM.  An Afghan Soldier tripped another bomb that took off an arm and his head.  No helicopter was needed and so he was taken out in a body bag that night when other helicopters picked us up.

The points made by the Army that Geneva Conventions obligations exist for the Army—but not for the Air Force and Marines or British—are so silly that they do not need to be explained, merely exposed.  One must wonder if we’ve lost Dustoff helicopters or crewmembers because Golden Minutes were wasted, or when they came under direct fire they were defenseless.

An accurate appraisal of the situation can be obtained by bypassing the Army Generals.  Better to anonymously poll the pilots and crews who collectively have flown thousands of evacuation missions in Afghanistan.

The Army has demonstrated a lack of institutional will and common sense.  After ten years they have not fixed the problem.

The Secretary of Defense or the President of the United States should intervene.  I will provide my unedited video of the MEDEVAC failure to the Pentagon and White House upon request.  I prefer to keep the unedited video “in house” due to the graphic nature.  I kindly request that this video be safeguarded from release.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

Michael Yon

Comments   

 
+8 # Benjamin 2011-10-23 22:56
All I can say is I agree with everything. They have put their foot in their mouth, But how they could do that with their head up their ass is beyond me. In all my time deployed as a medic my biggest fear was a long time to touchdown of the bird because it gives the enemy more time to prepare and zero in on a location. During the cover of dark its possible to hide where your LZ will be, but in the day its almost impossible if the enemy is watching.
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+3 # Joann 2011-10-24 00:48
FYI Michael, I am right now faxing your article to Washington. I believe we can stir up some interest from my guy, Senator Inhofe (Armed Services Committee)Oh, and what do you know; just so happens that every "R" on the Armed Services Committee is already programed into my auto-fax directory! I'll run my fax all through the night.

Please keep us update from your end, and we will do the same. You sir, are a good man. We'll get our guys some help.

God bless, stay safe.
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+6 # John Collins 2011-10-23 22:56
They'll either shrug their shoulders and continue being ignorant of what's needed to be done for the war, or they'll actually sit down and do something. Great letter,Michael. Let's hope SOMETHING gets DONE!
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+7 # Ryan Booth 2011-10-23 23:05
I just sent you $15. This may be the most important work that you've done; it's definitely going to save lives.
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+9 # Jesse 2011-10-23 23:08
This (and the previous dispatch) is journalism of the best sort. I wish you continued success.
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+4 # Rob 2011-10-23 23:23
The rag heads do not know what the Geneva Convention is!!! So why would we think it should be moral, hell they are not moral.
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-1 # So, you're saying we should stoop to their level?Tony Kaiser 2012-01-18 23:09
Quoting Rob:
The rag heads do not know what the Geneva Convention is!!! So why would we think it should be moral, hell they are not moral.


We did a pretty good job of not doing that against the Japanese, despite similar issues. The last thing we need is to let them use stooping to their level as propaganda. Then it will not be propaganda, but the truth.
------------------------
OIF 05-06/08/OEF 10-11
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0 # It''s self-Dan 2012-02-19 23:14
If there was propaganda value, they would already have it from Pedro and Marine helicopters. If anything, displaying crosses in a Muslim country provides the opportunity to label us crusaders.
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+5 # David Hickson 2011-10-23 23:34
Outstanding journalistic work, Michael. Well done.
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+9 # cush619 2011-10-23 23:37
OK, Commenters. Now it's time to actually DO something . How about printing off some copies of this Dispatch and snail mailing them to the Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta) and your Senators and Representatives ? A short respectful cover letter asking for their attention to this serious problem might be a good idea. Let's get ''er done!
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0 # C MARLOWE 2011-10-24 05:14
AMEN........... ........!!!!!!! !!
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0 # Colin 2011-10-24 07:13
Please sign the White House Petition to arm Dustoffs:

https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions/%21/petition/stop-requiring-army-medevac-helicopters-afghanistan-paint-red-crosses-their-sides-and-go-unarmed/LdxVQTgn?utm_source=wh.gov&utm_medium=shorturl&utm_campaign=shorturl
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+6 # David 2011-10-23 23:38
You do excellent and noble work. Thank you, Michael.
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+7 # Brian Hart 2011-10-23 23:41
Mike its going to take a congressional inquiry to get some action. House or Senate Armed Services Committee. The hearing is unlikely to happen, but by calling it it will precipitate a response and preemptive action by the army powers that be. Body armor, vehicular armor, single handed tourniquets, blood clotting agents,all, all were implemented via congressional action.
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+4 # Steve Smith 2011-10-24 03:14
Michael,

You are absolutely correct! I have flown MEDIVAC and many other combat related missions during my 23 years with the US Army. I agree with you that in Afghanistan especially (Gorilla war specifically) everything should be on the table including arming (taking off the Red Cross if necessary) should be a high priority.

In Vietnam our secondary mission as SLICK drivers (if we were in the area) was to act as MEDIVAC aircraft, I hope this occurs in Afghanistan as well.

Thanks for telling the truth and exposing problems within the service, I am sure our troops (at least most of them) appreciate all that you have done for them over the years. Keep up the excellent work.

Steve
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+9 # Michael Yon 2011-10-24 04:00
Please sign the White House Petition to arm Dustoffs:

https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions/%21/petition/stop-requiring-army-medevac-helicopters-afghanistan-paint-red-crosses-their-sides-and-go-unarmed/LdxVQTgn?utm_source=wh.gov&utm_medium=shorturl&utm_campaign=shorturl
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+1 # MikeM 2011-10-24 05:24
It's obvious in reading the article you actually talked to aviation experts and didn't just start shooting from the hip with what you learned on one mission and that adds credibility. My only issue was the claim that "pencil pushers" in the aviation unit's TOC waits on a full and complete 9-line for a launch order. In my old unit at the least (which is servicing RC-South now as a matter of fact) we launched on the first 4 lines if it was an urgent/urgent surgical. Hell, they would run to the bird as soon as we heard one was coming. Once launched, it's entirely up to the PC whether he'll land; something they'll try numerous times no matter the enemy situation.
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+2 # MikeM 2011-10-24 05:32
I also want to note that even if you add weapons and clear them into the hottest areas, there will still be exceptions to the rule of speed. That Blackhawk can break on the tarmac (not as often as apaches though)and the crew will have to jump aircraft using precious time. Another common delay is that unfortunately for your party, you're the 3rd or 4th Urgent mission going on at that exact time and there's not 4 mission-ready crew/acft (this being more situational and rare, yet absolutely does happen sometimes).

I guess I just want readers to know that a whole lot of people bust ass in every way made available to them for this mission; more than you would think. None of these young men and women waiting on the aircraft die at the choosing of anybody involved in the process. I can't speak for branch commanders and the like who make decisions like the one Yon is targeting.
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+3 # JTB 2011-10-24 08:16
Throw out the Red Cross and ROE. PC has no place in a war zone.
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+3 # Leyla Najma 2011-10-24 08:18
Michael,
You are a man of convictions and a beautiful heart! With you behind it, it's obvious something will get done!
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+2 # Heywood Jablomi 2011-10-24 08:37
Outstanding dispatch, my brother.

Stand fast against the bureaucrats.

RLTW & DOL,

Heywood
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+5 # Jeffrey Pauk 2011-10-24 09:22
Michael-
Just sent your letter to my representative (a retired Army officer and a West Point graduate). I hope it helps. Keep up the fight and let us know what we can do.
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+5 # Barry Sheridan 2011-10-24 09:25
This is sad reading Michael. You have to wonder how such people ever get authority and why they stubbornly resist measures they would rapidly embrace if it were they in the firing line. Keep up the good work.
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+5 # Ben Bell 2011-10-24 09:43
Naive and unknowing cake eating civilian chiming in . Sixty minute rule ? Is someone trying to save lives or deliver pizza ? I hope you don't mind if I copy and paste this article to Representative Patrick Meehan , PA -7 , who is my representative. THANK YOU for never taking an "If it bleeds , it leads " attitude to reporting from Afghanistan. The Joe Friday Just the Facts approach is what americans need to hear. STAY SAFE and GOD BLESS !!!
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+9 # Sharon 2011-10-24 10:06
Michael I am all for you 100%. I am glad you are able to let us all know how it is and give us the true side of it. Be careful and do not turn your back on anyone. You know how they have a way of silencing people who know too much or uncover and expose problems within. You have wonderful/truth ful dispatches and many followers and we will all be watching to see if you get any good results from this. God Bless America and Keep Michael Yon safe!!!!
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+8 # annie&neatie 2011-10-24 10:57
You've outlined one problem so well. There are many problems, Mike. It starts at the very top. We have no honest, capable leadership at the top. In fact I don't think the top even wants to win this war ... Going further I'm wondering whose side they are on. Will do as you asked...in fact already have but those in authority, for the most part these days, don't have ears to hear. Thanks Mike. This isn't the only change that needs to be made.
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0 # buster 2011-10-24 11:16
Army doctrine notes that a MEDEVAC can be initiated once the first 5-lines are conveyed. This article states that 'the clock' does not begin until the 9-line is completed. However, it seems to imply that MEDEVACs are delayed from initiating movement until the entire 9-line is relayed instead of pushing off once the minimum 5-lines are reported. Is this accurate? If helicopters are remaining on the ground waiting for lines 6-9, that seems to violate current doctrine.
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+3 # Dan 2011-10-24 11:55
No - this is not accurate!!!! Often the DUSTOFF bird is off the ground even before the nine-line is assigned to a unit - since Pedro and Tricky and DUSTOFF are all assigned missions from a central controlling agency - proactive DUSTOFF commanders often will launch only to be called back when the mission goes to somebody else.

The Time Starts when the nine-line is dropped is ONLY for reporting purposes - as far as ALL DUSTOFF units are concerned the clock starts when the "BOOM" happens... do NOT let this article send ANY OTHER MESSAGE regarding how much DUSTOFF Wants to get in the air.
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0 # Ben Bell 2011-10-24 11:30
Michael,

Just checked WhiteHouse.gov for the petition , but was unable to locate it. Also, link didn't work.

Regards,
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+1 # patrick quinn 2011-10-24 12:00
Stay safe and watch your back....God speed...
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+2 # Art 2011-10-24 12:26
I see that the Army has not changed. When I went to basic I was trained in WW11 tactics but I was going to Vietnam 1965. When I left Vietnam 1966 my replacement was also trained in WW11 tactics, no jungle training until in country. When I left the Army 1968 they still were training the troops at Ft. Camble in WW11 tactics. They don't move very fast.
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+4 # DanP 2011-10-24 12:54
I was in a DUSTOFF unit in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was a "pencil pusher" in an aviation TOC, and we were nothing if not completely commited to saving lives. Total professionalism was the standard, and we never forgot that the ground troops where counting on us.

I agree with much of what you say Michael, and I want to add this. One reason there are delays is because of the way 9-lines are passed along. A 9-line has to go through the ground unit's HQ to the local NATO command (as in the case of Afghanistan); from there it goes to an Aviation brigade, who then passes it to the MEDEVAC unit which is a company sized unit. This can take some time, as often commander's or senior officers have to approve the mission. There were many times when I or one of my officers would curse and swore as we waited for the 9-lines to be assigned to us.

As for armed Dustoff I agree fully, though I will miss my unit's motto of "DUSTOFF: No guns, just balls."
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+10 # Jack Mackenzie 2011-10-24 12:59
Guest Comment - to all the Staffers who read Yon in order to keep their Masters up to speed, I say this - I am certain to 100 decimal points our military command structure is riddled with seat warmers, REMFs, water carriers, salesmen, boosters, brown nosers, brass polishers, office seekers and just plain ignorant dumb asses .... and that's the command structure who make action-decision s. Hear this clearly - we HATE you. We hate everything you do that gums up the works, gets good men and women killed, wounded, stuck in impossible positions that cannot be defended and wastes manpower, resources and especially Morale.
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0 # Wm Weitz 2011-10-24 20:16
Amen Jack. Amen.
Ret'd CPT 82nd Abn
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+2 # thaught you should know 2011-10-24 13:07
since you've brought the attention to Medevac. The
fielding of the new HH-60M Medevac aircraft is a complete waste of money.
The new airframe makes no sense at all and they ripped out everything extra
they put in the new birds to make weight for the mountains( could not reach troops high in the
mountains). Unconfirmed numbers but I was told the HH60M cost 10 to 20
million more then a standard blackhawk. which a standard UH-60M would have
worked perfectly well with an external Hoist and flir.
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+1 # thaught you should know 2011-10-24 13:13
(SAVED MILLIONS) No one in the
Medevac community likes this new aircraft but because we are "medical"
Medcomm paid for the helicopters (because the aviation community realized
the waste and garbage airframe) It's costing tax payers Hundreds of
Millions. I no this sounds complicated. In the 80 and 90's they fielded a
uh-60Q guess what? they deemed the aircraft not worth the money and made
crews sick with the bubble window. They did not field this aircraft. The
uh60Q has the same layout as the new hh60M when they should have learned
from the quebec.
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+1 # thaught you should know 2011-10-24 13:23
Also in the new fielding instead of asking Medevac crews
they asked civilian EMT's what they would like. This aircraft is not combat
effective with all the extra's they put in it. (weighs us down and slows us
down and like i said we couldnt reach troops high in the mountains) we had
to pull out everything. There is also danger involved in the new HH they
covered up our "gunner windows" and gave us bubble windows, which causes a
hazard due to inability to see everything and restrict your view. Most
dangerous at night because well imagine 6" of NVG's in front of you and
your were already restricted with out NVG's. This aircraft is terrible when
landing in an unapproved LZ. " Point Of Injury"
with restiction of view. Everyone complains about this aircraft.
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0 # bodo636 2011-10-24 21:47
As far as I know, the Marines have never marked their helicopters with red crosses. To do so would require that assets be dedicated solely for medevacs and could not be used to carry, say, ammunition, out and casualties in. The Marines have never felt they had the extra assets.
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+4 # Bartman 2011-10-24 14:06
I think the solution is simple. Get the MEDEVAC out of the Medical Brigades. Assign the Medical Aviation assets to the Aviation Brigades assets. Take the Targets off the 60's and equip the crews with some offensive protection. It is obvious that the bad guys do not care about international laws ie ...Geneva Convention. Maybe the use of the 60's for transferring patients to another medical unit is good. But having a MEDEVAC crew wait for gun ships for protection is wasting time. Arm the 60's that go into a hot zone with mini guns and I bet they can keep the bad guys ducking. How about evaluating the removal of the Red Crosses for this theater of war. With limited assets this makes sense. I am sure those MEDEVAC crews are tired of sitting and waiting on an escort.

Thank you Michael your views over the last few years are some of the best I have read. I believe your reporting is the best and most honest reporting out there in the news networks that I have read.
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+5 # Skeej 2011-10-24 14:29
Copying and sending to my Congress Critter- to whom I wrote same day as the Red Air article, and still awaiting more than the form letter response. Are you paying attention, Mr Bilbray? Your new district is NOT a slam dunk for re-election this year...and this is an ISSUE for an ISSUE VOTER who supports the Troops!
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+2 # Ghost 2011-10-24 15:31
I wonder if anyone has thought of another reason why angry Muslims may shoot at the helicopters bearing a red cross. Just a thought that occurred to me.

I agree however, force protection overrides antiquated notions of wartime morality. That only works when both sides play along, we should have learned that lesson long ago.
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0 # wraith67 2011-10-24 16:17
Iraq is essentially over (and now officially over), I don't know why they haven't been moving Apaches over to take up the slack. They can yank some grunts or support staff out (replaced by combat aircraft personnel) if they don't want the numbers to look like they're 'escalating'.

But the political situation being what it is, I would imagine we'll shortly have an announcement that we're leaving Afghanistan entirely, lickety split. Karzai saying he "...would support Pakistan..." in a US/Paki altercation isn't going to help anything.

Probably better in the long run, the politicians haven't been playing this thing to win for a very long time.
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0 # Alan Johnson 2011-10-24 17:26
Michael as always your case is well stated and backed up with on the ground observation and first hand experience. One would hope that something will be done, if not to take the cross off to at least give the local commanders the authority to allocate or request available aviation resources. Lets hope they listen! God Speed.
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+1 # Phoenix24 2011-10-24 17:33
The Geneva Convention was written to apply to conflicts between civilized opponents who are culturally compatible. The the best of my knowledge the various conflicts between India and Pakistan (which were fought by people who had previously been members of the same Army just like the USA and CSA forces during the War Between the States) and the 1982 Falklands Conflict between Britain and Argentina are the only two significant wars which have been fought with anything approaching chivalrous standards. Army medevacs should abandon the naive concept of being noncambatants and function like Special Forces Medics who operate as Soldiers who perform medical roles in addition to being fully combatant.
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0 # john 2011-10-24 18:32
I could be mistaken, but I recall during my Law of Armed Conflict training that the Red Cross on a helicopter does not render it a non-combatant. It can be assumed correctly that any helicopter crew (armed or not) can use their vantage point and radios to call fires. Therefore any helicopter may be assumed a combatant. Ground ambulances are protected, but to my knowledge helicopters are not.
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+2 # Tyler 2011-10-25 14:23
John, as an active duty Army JAG officer in the Army's JAG Graduate Program who just had several classes on LOAC, you are wrong about medevac helicopters vs medevac ground vehicles. The markings on the dustoff, just like on a ground ambulatory vehicle, are there to give that vehicle protection from fire (at least in theory). To use the helicopter as an OC position and/or to call in fire is a violation of the narrow line a dustoff must walk in order maintain its neutrality and protected status.

That being said, I completely agree with Michael. The GCs were written for conventional warfare between conventional forces. The Army Medical Corps needs to embrace reality, paint over the crosses, and arm them. We have changed the way we train, equip, and fight, why haven't we changed the way we evacuate the wounded?
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0 # jm 2012-04-10 11:09
I'm also an Army JAG. Wondering who issued a legal opinion to the leadership.
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+4 # SV 2011-10-24 19:00
No offense to the Apache drivers, but there is also the issue of start time. Our standard was 10 minutes, we had it down to 6-8 on a good day and there just is not a way to crank a 64 as fast. Coordination en-route is a player, but not to be counted on.

Medevac is already prepared to launch in weather that grounds everyone else and we have been doing it unarmed. Mount the weapons, even the odds and let us go to work.

Our motto: "DUSTOFF: No guns, no backup? No problem.
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+10 # Jeff Stanley 2011-10-24 20:07
Changing the policy is not enough. Rooting the aparatchiks out of the command structure who are behind this policy, and removing them from the uniformed service of the United States is now a must.
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+10 # KEHammer 2011-10-25 00:03
Good on you, Mr. Yon. I agree wholeheartedly with you. This medevac failure MUST be fixed. I continue to pray for your safety and the safety of our soldiers. Please take care.
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+6 # LCDR Mac 2011-10-25 01:09
Michael,
My boy is flying a "Dustoff", and 11 years ago while in DCO school, as I struggled to qualify with the 9mm, the Range master told me, "Ma'am, the day that we have nurses carrying guns, we're gonna be in big trouble". Well, I suppose we're in "big trouble", and the rules have changed. it's time to remove the Red Cross and arm the Dustoff!
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+3 # Ryan 2011-10-25 11:28
U.S. Rep Elton Gallegly, CA24

As a former Marine I like to keep up to date with our warrior’s progress around the world. The best place to find honest and accurate reporting from the front lines in Afghanistan is by following Michael Yon's dispatches on his website www.michaelyon-online.com His front line reports are very telling of the reality that our troops face. Today he released an Open Letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and President Barack Obama. I encourage you to also read his letter and to do everything you can to help our boys come home safe (some of whom are from your district).

Below is the link and I’m looking forward to your response.

http://www.michaelyon-online.com/golden-seconds.htm


Best,
Ryan
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+2 # Tyler 2011-10-25 16:03
Sent to the ranking member of both the Senate and House Armed Services Committee:

Senator/Congressman,

As a member of the U.S. Army for the last 11 years, I have seen a revolution in the means and methods in which the Army equips, trains its Soldiers, and fights the insurgencies we find ourselves combating. Unfortunately-- and it seems uniquely when compared to the other services--the Army has not changed the method in which we evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Please see this open letter to the President and to the Secretary of Defense written by Mr. Michael Yon, the best war correspondent America has. As I agree with Mr. Yon's arguments, I believe you will soon see that you are in a unique position to both help save lives and save public funds with the next NDAA...

http://www.michaelyon-online.com/golden-seconds.htm
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+5 # Dan 2011-10-26 09:17
Considering that nearly ALL of Congress has NO military much less combat experience I shudder to think what it's going to be like to have them dictating TTPs, doctrine, and the like! Simply putting "guns" on DUSTOFF is not the only solution in the set of options - better support and availability of gunships is, however, something with a higher payoff - you've identified the problem, that's sufficient -
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0 # Bob 2011-10-26 11:07
Agreed. Putting guns on MEDEVAC no more solves the problem with risk than putting miniguns on 160th Aircraft did in Mogadishu. How would having a gun on the aircraft have made any difference in terms of risk assessment? I guess Michael thinks that it would eliminate the need to have -64s escort the MEDEVAC in. Fine, that works 1 time until the enemy understands that you can engage the aircraft after it passes or at an angle above their elevation limits (read valleys in Afghanistan) and now you lose a MEDEVAC crew. This case illustrates something, but not the need for armed MEDEVAC. Again, where was the CASEVAC plan? If there was one, it didn't need a 9 line to launch...
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0 # Dan 2011-10-26 13:08
There is a BIG difference between CASEVAC and MEDEVAC - both have "plans" - and no unit on the ground in AFG relies on anything else besides DUSTOFF/Pedro/T ricky. Too much time/distance and too much added risk due to IEDs along a ground evac route. CASEVAC denotes simply putting the patient on a vehicle to evacuate them - might have a medic - might have medical gear - might not (usually doesn't) - MEDEVAC is just that - a dedicated vehicle/aircraf t with medically trained personell to treat the wounded. Nobody said putting "guns" on DUSTOFF eliminates the risk - just a means to deal with it - AND, when assessing "launch approval" - availability of "gunships" allows DUSTOFF to launch earlier - Make not doubt about it - DUSTOFF lives to launch in under 4-6 minutes - and the "one-hour" timelimit is a means to "assess" whether or not the mission met the Sec Def's mandate - has nothing to do with planning the mission - you call - they haul butt - somebody keeps score.
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0 # Bob 2011-10-26 09:36
My solution is much simpler. You place mission request and launch authority with a senior flight surgeon assigned to the aviation task force who is seated right next to the AVN S3 so that a balanced decision can be made. Take the hospital commander out of that loop. We get rid of the AH-64, convert the AH-64 units to DAP units and then assign a medical section to each DAP BTN. If a contested MEDEVAC is called then the DAP unit gets the mission for CASEVAC and their assets go, but on the vast majority of calls that are not contested, you send a red cross as a formal MEDEVAC. That way, lift keeps its goodies, assault is happy and MEDEVAC can continue to work as it has.

Once that's done, and after we train ever Army Medic to be a paramedic (good luck on that) we can then make a case for eliminating Pedros...
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0 # Bob 2011-10-26 11:17
How does the use of Extortion 17 support this argument? It was a helicopter full of operators. All it proves is that you can arm an aircraft to the teeth and the Muj will still find a way to kill it. Witness the wreckage of many a downed Hind. This issue has nothing to do with MEDEVAC. It has to do with operational methods (CASEVAC plan as part of an assault) and basic point of injury trauma care. There are very real issues that MEDEVAC community faces that make that cross and the MSC assignment a needed factor, ask the MEDEVAC proponency they will tell you that they want those crosses on helicopters. SF medics usually survive because of speed and surprise. Trust me there is no surprise when you send a -60 in, armed or unarmed.
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+2 # john 2011-11-02 12:45
I invite you to look at FM 4-02 Page 4-7 para 4-6 read it and think for a while. If you cant here is the paragraph in the FM that I find so hypocritical, pay close attention to the last sentence.

(c) Medical aircraft, like medical transports, are protected from intentional attack, but
with a major difference—they are protected only “while flying at heights, times, and on routes specifically
agreed upon between the belligerents concerned,” (Article 36, GWS). Such agreements may be made for
each specific case or may be of a general nature, concluded for the duration of hostilities. If there is no
agreement, belligerents use medical aircraft at their own risk and peril.

So we know what we are doing and we know what would happen.
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+1 # RE: Golden SecondsKevin 2011-12-10 19:19
Mr. Yon,
I have enjoyed your dispatches for the last several years and have referred many friends here if they were interested in what is really happening, thank you for your work.
I do want to challenge a comment from this article however; "Of course, those people who sell helicopters and helicopter parts...." I have worked for a helicopter manufacturer for 25 years, my father worked here for 20 years before that. I can assure you no one at my company, not a single person, would trade any American service members life or health for all the aircraft and spares sales combined. We are very well aware of what our product does and who uses it, the war fighters safety and security are top priorities and never far from our thoughts. I can tell you about the sinking sick feeling in the pit of the stomach when the news reports an aircraft went down, regardless of cause and most especially if there has been a loss of life.
We are not greedy capitalists, we are Americans.
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+1 # re: golden secondsRichard M 2012-01-19 06:36
Michael reported this in October. It is now mid Jan and no action. The chief of staff for the US Army could have changed this in a heartbeat. It is obvious the Army is loaded with PC bastards who are willing to let Americans die just so they
can claim moral superiority over the Taliban. It was the same in Nam, with the ticket punchers, yes men in Washington, and incompetent field graders riding in choppers.
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0 # We are missing the BIG pointTriggerPuller 2012-07-24 21:04
A few people have understood the big picture. With the Apache makers wouldn't like making there big money aircraft more obsolete for certain conditions. Also the guy who brought up the new MEDEVAC helicopter and the huge waste of money is 100% correct. As well as the person who said the top people in the country have said we don't want to win this war is also correct.

We should have been out of this country 10 years ago. There has been tribal fighting here for the last 3000 years what makes the US think an all out invasion of 20,000 infantry would have done anything is beyond me. We should have stuck to small SF teams, CIA, and Air Power and stuck to training the Afghan Army and we could have saved countless American lives and those are just the lucky ones, try seeing someone you know who lost both legs and is scarred for life he is lucky to be alive. Or another buddy who is going to a vegatable because he was shot in the head or took shrapnel to the head that its ok you made it you fought for freedom and to protect the United States. Wait I'm sorry there is more violent crime then ever.

In conclusion the article is completely accurate but in the long run completely meaningless due to the fact we should no longer be having to conduct MEDEVACs in Afghanistan. I guess it will help when we are stuck in another shitty middle eastern country like Syria or Iran.

To all you MEDEVAC pilots and air crew thanks for saving two of my soldiers. They would surely both be dead if it wasn't for you guys getting there even if the bullets where still flying. Again Thanks

COP Charkh, Logar Afghanistan
2010-2011
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