Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

RED AIR: A Private Forum


00020MTSStill001cc1000Soldiers react seconds after IED strike

28 November 2011

Every day in Afghanistan there are casualties requiring helicopter evacuation.  There is a high probability that as you read this, someone is bleeding and in the process of extraction from the battlefield.

US Army MEDEVAC helicopters fly unarmed into combat emblazoned with Red Crosses on white backgrounds.  This signals to the enemy that our people are unarmed.  The enemy tries to shoot them down.

The Air Force, Marines and British do not burden their helicopters with Red Crosses and they are armed with machine guns.  This facilitates faster, safer evacuations.  Army helicopters frequently must orbit landing zones because there is too much ground fire.  This happened again less than a week ago.  A trooper suffered a double amputation during an ambush.   The Army Dustoff had to orbit for about 45 minutes due to ground fire.

Read more: RED AIR: A Private Forum

How to Catch a Bird without a Gun



24 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving weekend in America!  This is a good time to share something lighter than the constant war.

I’ve travelled to more than sixty countries, often spending years on end abroad.  Those journeys have revealed many fascinating sides of life.

Today I am in Laos, a small country thick with jungles in Southeast Asia.  Laos used to be called “The Land of a Million Elephants.”  There still are many elephants, but not like those older times.  One day in Italy, I was in Venice upstairs in a museum and saw a very old map of Laos.  It was a mysterious place illustrated by elephants and nestled between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and China.  Many names have changed since that old parchment was drawn.

Read more: How to Catch a Bird without a Gun



2011-09-24-110819cc1000Afghanistan: Army Medic helps to bag up an Afghan Soldier who was just blown up. Our medics do not wear Red Crosses. They carry rifles.

23 November 2011

Army Dustoff MEDEVAC helicopter crews have been performing stellar work in Afghanistan. When troops are wounded, the Dustoffs go into hostile territory often while taking ground fire. Most interesting: they go in unarmed.

The helicopters are emblazoned with the Red Cross, and so according to the Geneva Conventions they are not allowed to carry offensive weapons. Just what constitutes an offensive weapon is another line of discussion, but the bottom line is that Dustoffs do not carry machine guns.

More interesting is that the Red Cross is one of the symbols used in the Crusades.  After years of throwing around the COIN acronym while pretending we have learned something about Counterinsurgency, we still fly around Afghanistan in CrusaderCopters.

Read more: CrusaderCopters

Mark of the Beast: Evil Symbols in Afghanistan


crosses tb1000

22 November 2011

US Army MEDEVAC helicopters in Afghanistan are marked with Red Crosses. Helicopters sporting a Red Cross are not allowed to be armed. The enemy knows this. The enemy tries to shoot down these unarmed helicopters with the added advantage that our people cannot shoot back.  And so, we push people into combat while advertising to the enemy that our people are unarmed.  The best that can be said for this policy is that it’s wrong. The worst that can be said might be that it borders on criminal.

We like to think that after a decade of counterinsurgency, we have learned something. Have we? What does a cross on a helicopter mean? For some Afghans, it’s a mark of the beast. The poster above was hanging on a wall in eastern Afghanistan.

Read more: Mark of the Beast: Evil Symbols in Afghanistan

Pocket Spies


Image-cr-1000Image created with iPhone4s

17 November 2011

We know the Internet has dangers.  Everything we put onto the information superhighway should be considered chiseled into marble.  Meanwhile, those smartphones that so many of us carry are tantamount to carrying hostile spies in our pockets.  If the battery is charged and in the phone, the phone is a homing beacon whether it’s on or off.  Now add services such as Facebook, and those excellent phone cameras with geotagging, and there is a combination for disaster.

This has relevancy for our troops in Afghanistan.  During certain missions, I would not even take my smartphones.  On or off, I did not want to take the chance.  Probably made no difference, but it’s better safe than to get our people hurt.  It is important that troops make sure that journalists and Interpreters do not take smartphones during certain sorts of missions.  Also, if you get blown up, that smartphone might go sailing through the air and be found by the enemy.  If they crack into it, they might have a treasure chest.  The last unit that I had the honor to cover was 4-4 Cav.  They were good about reminding about the smartphones but some other units don’t pay attention.

Read more: Pocket Spies

What is Your Vote?


17 November 2011

The United States faces greater threats at home than we face in Afghanistan.  The Mexican border, for instance, is being described as a war zone.  People have been warning about it for years.  Over time, I have seriously considered changing focus to the more proximate and bigger threats.

I am ready and willing to change primary focus to the home front.  This will require setting up shop and living in a place like Texas or Arizona.  Probably Texas.

I am testing the winds.  If the funding is there, it will happen.  I will move home to America and get to work.  If you are willing to support coverage on the home front, this is a situation where money talks.  If you vote “Yes, I will support it,” please annotate your vote with a note.

The bottom line question: Will you financially support this coverage?  The quality will be high.  So will the price.


Marked for Destruction



14 November 2011

Camouflage is a combat imperative.  Instruction in the use of camouflage begins in basic training.  The Red Cross on the bright white background is meant to break up camouflage and to be seen.

While there might seem little chance in hiding a roaring helicopter, the contrasting colors and sharp shapes of the Red Cross create a significant difference when aiming shots.  Many or most of the enemies in Afghanistan are bad shots.  Others are good.  They make successful long shots onto FOB Pasab, for instance, with explosive weapons, such as recoilless rifles and rockets.  They have no problems hitting moving armored vehicles with recoilless rifles.  One shot can easily destroy a helicopter.

Read more: Marked for Destruction

That 1%



11 November 2011

It has been an honor these seven years to cover American and British troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines and elsewhere.  It is said that only about 1% of Americans serve in the armed forces.  Many of our troops are not even American citizens.  I see them in combat regularly.  Many veterans are in hospitals or have fresh scars and are recovering from recent wounds.  A message just arrived from the military in Kabul that we just lost another service member in Southern Afghanistan.

Read more: That 1%

Leadership: More than a Word



10 November 2011

There are leaders, and there are people in leadership positions.  These are not synonymous.  Today is the 314th day of 2011.  According to iCasualties.org, approximately 515 Coalition members have died in Afghanistan this year.  Far more have been wounded and evacuated by helicopter.  Our MEDEVAC policy is dangerously flawed, yet no leader has stepped forward to fix what obviously is broken.

A helicopter evacuation is probably ongoing as you read these words.  In my dispatches Red Air, Golden Seconds, and Fool’s Gold & Troops’ Blood, a strong case was made for arming Dustoff Helicopters.  Arming Dustoff helicopters will reduce strain on our overstretched helicopter fleet in Afghanistan, and can save lives.

Read more: Leadership: More than a Word

Abandoned Mosque

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09 November 2011

We came into an abandoned Mosque.  The village was empty other than enemy.  Outside, a Soldier found a piece of fuse from an artillery or mortar round.  The roof of the mosque appeared to have taken fire from the air.  Hours earlier, Chazray Clark had stepped on a bomb and been evacuated by helicopter. Inside the mosque was a notebook wherein someone had been practicing English, and then we came under a brief small arms attack.  I sat down with the notebook on my lap and photographed every page.

The next day, another Soldier would be killed about fifty meters from this mosque.   An Afghan triggered the bomb and died on the spot.  A piece of his American weapon landed far away.

Question for Congressman Pompeo: What is your Position?


2011-07-18-082724 HDR1000

08 November 2011

Forward Operating Base Pasab is in the upper left corner of this image.  It’s the little rectangle looking area bristling with machine guns.  Well, you can’t see the machine guns in this picture, but they are there.  One time I walked by a guard post and didn’t see anyone in it.  I walked up to see if everyone was dead or something (highly unlikely), but the Afghan guards were just gone!  They had completely left their post.  Needless to say, I pulled out of there very fast and told a senior NCO and an officer at 4-4 Cav.  Good grief.  Many of our bases are guarded by Afghans.

Anyway, I made this image while flying with an excellent helicopter crew who often flies top cover for unarmed Dustoffs.  The bird from which this image was made had a machine gun on each door.  Not exactly mini-guns or .50 calibers, but at least it had guns.  On this day, the crew was not on a medical mission, but performing routine tasks and was kind enough to fly me from Kandahar Airfield to various places on their route, then drop me off at Pasab (one of their scheduled stops).  When we landed, there happened to be a quick ceremony on for an Afghan commander who had been blown up that day.  Soldiers told me that one of our helicopters was about to fly his remains to his home village, and so this was a farewell to what both Americans and Afghans would say was a respected commander.

Read more: Question for Congressman Pompeo: What is your Position?

Report to Congress


Army called to Report on MEDEVAC Failure in Afghanistan

07 November 2011

This morning, I emailed to the office of Congressman Mike Pompeo asking for a phone conversation.  His office informed me that the Army will appear before Congress to address the MEDEVAC failure in Afghanistan.  The email follows:

Sir - the Army will be reporting to Congress in the near future on this matter.  I do not see value in a conversation prior to the official response.


James L. Richardson
Legislative Director
Office of Congressman Mike Pompeo (KS-04)
107 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-6216 (o)
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


This is outstanding news.  But we are far from there.  Please post this widely, asking everyone you know to sign this White House petition.

Please make sure to read the latest dispatch and to watch the video of the MEDEVAC failure.

Fool’s Gold & Troops’ Blood


America's Medevac Failure

06 November 2011

This combat video was made in September 2011 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.  A bomb was planted in our path.  A young, highly-liked Soldier named Chazray Clark triggered the blast.  Chazray lost an arm and both legs.  Despite great pain, Chazray was awake and lucid the entire time.

A tragedy was unfolding.  The US military, at the direction of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, strives to get our wounded to hospitals within the “Golden Hour.”  The military mostly accomplishes this with incredible speed, often under direct enemy fire.   They could do much better.

After casualties are sustained, the medical evacuation helicopters typically will not launch until a “9-line” report is transmitted from the field.  During this mission, due to the calm discipline of the Soldiers of 4-4 Cav, the 9-line was transmitted in only six minutes.  That’s fast.

Bold accounting magic has been used to redefine the Golden Hour.  The true starting gun for the biological Golden Hour begins at the moment of injury.  The military Golden Hour begins after the 9-line is received.  If combat or other circumstance delays the 9-line by 20 minutes, the military Golden Hour becomes 80 minutes.  But when we hear a military spokesmen saying that average MEDEVAC times are 50 minutes, what they are really saying is 50 minutes plus the 9-line time, and they won’t mention that 9-line buffer.  This audacious deception angers many military people who know about it.

Read more: Fool’s Gold & Troops’ Blood

Afghanistan: Major General Disembedded from US Forces


05 November 2011

Another General has been sacked in Afghanistan.  Major General Peter Fuller will be sent packing for speaking his mind.  From what I have read, MG Fuller told the truth and nothing but the truth, but he'd need a lot more time to tell the full truth.  His remarks, as quoted, were dead on target.

This American applauds MG Peter Fuller.  He lost one job but there will be others, and he kept his integrity.

Read more: Afghanistan: Major General Disembedded from US Forces

Night Walk with 4-4 Cav


04 November 2011


It’s amazing how many lights can be seen on a dark night.  Especially if you are with the US military.  Different-colored lights are useful for differing purposes. The color you use can depend on your job. For medics, blue light is good for blood.  It’s also good for tracking blood trails.  Bright white is best but then the enemy can shoot you.  Red light can make blood disappear, but then again blue light makes petroleum look like blood, and so if you are treating patients at night from after an IED strike on a vehicle, there can be confusion.  American military maps are made to be “red light readable” because red light preserves night vision and is harder to see from a distance.  The question of lights and how to use them can soak up thousands of words and so let’s keep it simple and move on.

Read more: Night Walk with 4-4 Cav

Pale Riders


A No-Name Unit, in a No-Name Place

2011-09-10-070713cc1000Pale Riders' Tents

03 November 2011

Few people realize that Task Force Spartan is in what is probably the toughest fighting in Afghanistan.  Many of the Soldiers might not even realize it because they are so busy.  Within Task Force Spartan is the 4-4 Cav squadron who call themselves the “Pale Riders.”   The Pale Riders are tasked to fight and move the ball forward in Zhari District of Kandahar Province.

Read more: Pale Riders

Dustoff Traction


27 October 2011

The plight of unarmed Army Dustoff helicopters is reaching many ears.  Yesterday, someone at a major newspaper asked me to write an Op-ed, and there are many other elements of progress in raising awareness.  After we raise awareness, the time will be ripe for change.

Read more: Dustoff Traction

Machine Guns on Dustoffs



26 October 2011

A big thank you to everyone who is reaching out to civilian leadership on the matter of arming Dustoff helicopters.  If you have received letters such as the above, please send to me for publication: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Please Sign this White House Petition.

Read more: Machine Guns on Dustoffs

Kids, Emails, and Dustoffs


2011-09-10-204308-1000Sergeant Larson, 4-4 Cav, stands night guard in Zhari District, Afghanistan. Sergeant Larson got shot a day or two before. The bullet only ripped his gear.

25 October 2011

Two types of emails stop me cold to read.  Those from downrange troops, and kids.  Gobs of emails come in from both.  This morning came the best in a long while.  The message was from a young girl in the United States.  She writes, "I might want to be a Green Baret do they go to Russia? maybe I can be an american spy…..after that i want to be a kindergarten teacher."  I love that email.

Now back to work.

We are making progress in raising the issue of the dangerously unarmed Dustoff helicopters.  As stated in Red Air and Golden Seconds, removing the useless red crosses and loading up with machine guns is important.

Read more: Kids, Emails, and Dustoffs

Golden Seconds


Golden Seconds

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

Pedro-1000US Air Force "Pedro" helicopter

24 October 2011


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.

Read more: Golden Seconds

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