Michael's Dispatches

MEDEVAC at FOB Pasab, Afghanistan

24 October 2012

mullah-omar-1000Mullah Omar

Google has a function called “Alerts.” This function allows users to program keywords and receive daily updates from the web.  Using alerts is like having your own investigative wing scouring for information on topics of interest.   Two of the keywords that I use are MEDEVAC and MEDIVAC.

After a group of concerned citizens and I started raising MEDEVAC issues last year, the net alerts suggested that an extraordinary number of MEDEVAC units were sent to Afghanistan.  Later, word came from Afghanistan that our efforts caused a great increase in available MEDEVAC assets.

On a side note, it appears that communities across the United States are buying MEDEVAC helicopters for civilian use.

Army MEDEVAC uses the call sign “Dustoff” (or Dust Off).  The call sign derives from the Vietnam era.  The most renowned Dustoff pilot is probably Major General (ret.) Patrick Brady.  MG Brady received the Medal of Honor for flying Dustoff in Vietnam.  I am currently reading his excellent book called Dead Men Flying.

Interestingly, many opposed our MEDEVAC awareness work, which stemmed in part from a MEDEVAC that failed to launch from FOB Pasab in time to save an American Soldier:  RED AIR 

And so when our group noticed that MG (ret.) Brady held similar views, we were not surprised.  Many Dustoff pilots share General Brady’s views.  This October 2012 article outlines how MG Patrick Brady believes that the military is failing to reach the highest standards in its Dustoff mission.

Google Alerts brought this story today from FOB Pasab, the same base in southern Afghanistan that launched the tardy Dustoff on the 2011 morning when Chazray Clark was killed by a bomb strike:

Medevac central: A glimpse at one of the busiest medevac locations in Afghanistan

The most recent story from FOB Pasab contains many clues.  Importantly, a Captain wrote this article, and the Army published it.

The Army story indicates that there are now two Dustoff helicopters at Pasab.  The story does not explicitly say this, but it mentions two crews who sometimes are flying simultaneously.  While I was there last year, there was only one Dustoff, along with a chase helicopter.  The military seems to have at least doubled MEDEVAC assets at Pasab.  Did the dispatches about MEDEVAC make a difference?  For Pasab, we do not know for sure, but where the bigger picture is concerned, we know that they did.

Now to a broader part of the Army story linked above.  Casualties last year already were high around Pasab.  A Dustoff from Pasab typically picks up casualties on battlefields that are very close.  Sometimes the casualties happen on base due to rockets or other incoming fire.  Other times, you can hear a large bomb explode off base, and about ten minutes later the Dustoff launches.  That is your sign that the Internet is about to “black out,” so that troops cannot speculate online about what happened.

For American casualties, a Dustoff from Pasab typically flies to the trauma hospital at Kandahar Airfield.  If the wounded Soldiers survive, they will be stabilized and are often sent to Germany.  If they die, normally they will be sent home immediately after respects are paid at a “ramp ceremony.”

image003The craters on the moon cause me to wonder how many bombs exploded in Afghanistan

Last year, the area around Pasab was as dangerous as Sangin was during the period when the British had the lead.  Both Pasab and Sangin reminded me at times of heavy fighting in Iraq.  The area around Pasab is a trauma zone, and the Army has beefed up evacuation assets after our MEDEVAC advocacy efforts.

The war effort seemed to evince some regional progress in that area last year, but the proof eventually will be in the numbers.  The area is not large.  Either the place is becoming more secure, or it is not.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the area is not becoming more secure.  Messages come from our troops that the place is still a bomb and shoot-out gallery.

This battle space is not deep in the Hindu Kush or a Congolese jungle.  The terrain is wide open, readily accessible by foot, or even on a bicycle.  The terrain around Orlando, Florida is tougher.  The micro-terrain can be challenging, but in reality what makes the micro-terrain tough is that the enemy forces you off of the easy places to walk, and causes you to climb walls and grape rows like a monkey.  If the people were not waging war, even the micro-terrain would be easy because you would walk through the grape rows, not over them, and you could walk through doors instead of climbing walls.

Just go to Google Earth, type in “Panjwai,” and have a look.  Simple terrain.  Unless people are trying to blow you up.

From a large military perspective, considering the needs of American technology, the terrain could hardly be more American-friendly.  You could, without exaggerating, fly straight to Kandahar, hop on a motorbike and be in the middle of the battle space an hour later. But too many of the people do not want us to be there.

It may interest Americans to know that in 2011, American time, effort and resources were spent (not invested) refurbishing Mullah Omar’s Mosque in this same battle space that is covered by the Dustoff helicopters at Pasab.

The mosque is in a village called Sangsar.  Sangsar Village is the very bellybutton of the Taliban.  Ground Zero.  This is it.  The birthplace of the latest Mad Mullah war.  And we refurbished Mullah Omar’s mosque there in 2011.  This would be like building a memorial for Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad.

Some folks may have forgotten who Mullah Omar is.  After all, the war is into its 12th year with no end visible.  Mullah Omar is the top Taliban leader, who welcomed Osama bin Laden into Afghanistan.  By refurbishing his mosque, we pretend that we have a role to play in Mullah Omar’s home village, and that we are winning friends and influencing people.

According to the Army MEDEVAC story:

“Pasab averages 30 percent of all Category Alpha medevac   missions in RC-South. The medevac crews at Pasab also see the worst injuries as they only respond to urgent medical calls, known as CAT-A missions. These are calls with injuries, such as a multiple amputee patients, that require a response from mission start to medical facility delivery of less than one hour - known as the golden hour.”

This is what we get in return for refurbishing Mullah Omar’s mosque.  We cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel in Afghanistan.  There is a reason. We are not in a tunnel.  We are digging a hole.  This hole is nothing but a grave for our youths who trust that we know more than we do.

At what point do we start calling this murder?

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