Michael's Dispatches

A Hypothetical Interview General Martin Dempsey:



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.”


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.”


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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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jill Trammell · 9 years ago

    Keep telling the truth in every form possible. I like this fictional interview...yet, I know how real it truly is.

    God bless all tlour warriors and stay safe.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bohica · 9 years ago
    Brilliant way of illustrating lunacy Mike. Keep it up.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    a&n · 9 years ago
    too busy winning hearts and minds and negotiating with the taliban to use common sense and protect our own men. This is but one of the many mistakes being made. ...although it is a terrible one.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Herrmann Glockler · 9 years ago

    You hit a very sensitive nerve here.
    You have exposed the incompetence of this officer to the public, and now giving in would mean he is also admitting to it, after initially opposing you.
    Any really competent officer should agree, but his outsized ego now is interfering with common sense
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Denise · 9 years ago
      Any high ranking officer, which has been shown a defect in the battle plan that puts our troops in un-necessary peril and does nothing because of ego or ANY other reason is not fit to lead our troops. Period. No General should ask his troops to do what he is himself unwilling to do. Semper Fi. ( Michael, keep the heat on this )
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matthew · 9 years ago
    ...let's talk about this stupid camouflage everyone has to wear except while in Afghanistan.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Lane · 9 years ago
      [quote name="Matthew"]...let's talk about this stupid camouflage everyone has to wear except while in Afghanistan.[/quote]

      So.. what is the deal with the camo? I'm not in the military so don't know what this is referring to. What is worn in Afghanistan?
      • This commment is unpublished.
        Matthew · 9 years ago
        [quote name="Lane"][quote name="Matthew"]...let's talk about this stupid camouflage everyone has to wear except while in Afghanistan.[/quote]

        So.. what is the deal with the camo? I'm not in the military so don't know what this is referring to. What is worn in Afghanistan?[/quote]

        But everytime I see those ACU's I get annoyed. But since you asked:
        http://www.stripes.com/news/army-testing-new-camouflage-1.975 4

        The bottom picture is what is used in Afghanistan now.

        Best regards.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JFin · 9 years ago
    Pres to Asst: I am replacing Gen Dempsey. Bring me the next 10 highest ranking members of the JCS, and bring them in one at a time in order of rank.

    Asst: Yes, sir.

    (highest one introduced)

    Pres: If I appoint you to replace Dempsey, would you immediately correct the Medevac Red Cross problem?

    Officer: Well, sir, I would immediately begin an inquiry to weigh ...

    Pres: (interrupting) NEXT!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dennis ODonnell · 9 years ago
    Breakin it down should make it easier for them. General...its time to admit you are wrong on this one.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    BT · 9 years ago
    If he's one of Obama's generals, you just know that he's probably a politically correct idiot.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tyler H. · 9 years ago
    Well done. This is a wonderful thought experiment illustrating how idiotic upper brass can be. The more I deal with higher ups in my own branch the more I am convinced that the higher the rank the more political and less tactical they become. They're more concerned with looking up their COC than down. Thanks for bringing this lunacy to light since it's getting my army brethren killed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Born hard again USMC · 9 years ago
    General Martin Dempsey couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag.

    This is beautiful: "...That the enemy behaves a certain way does not mean we need to behave that way."

    "....Please this guy needs the stars kicked out of his ass...I am absolutely livid this man represents my country.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    reaper3 · 9 years ago
    I am amazed at the arrogance of General Dempsey. He & others like him are more concerned with pleasing those above him rather than doing the right thing & providing every & all available resources for our troops to succeed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    peter · 9 years ago
    Michael, very good. Wait for a response. It may take a month.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thomas · 9 years ago
    I agree with your objective but be careful about using a strategy where you put words in the mouth of CJCS. Think for a moment about how you would feel if you read a hypothetical interview and someone put words in your mouth. You're fighting the good fight but you can stay on the high road and still make your point.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Andrew · 9 years ago
      Thomas has a good point-
      You do not know what Dempsey is doing behind the scenes, or motivations or pressures or data he is being fed. Putting words into his mouth might be counterproductive.

      Highlighting the double-standard for brass transport compared to MEDEVAC is good rhetoric, but getting personal about it might backfire.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Serge · 9 years ago
    I cannot wait for Michael's hypothetical interview with the President B.H. Obama!! ;-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kurt Olney · 9 years ago
    Go Mike, Go!!! Brilliant "interview!" And you have me wondering about that 92% Army claim.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marty · 9 years ago
    Good stuff Michael, too bad something like this would never transpire.

    If the camo issue people are talking about is wearing the uniform while CONUS, are you suggesting that we wear something else while at home, than we do while deployed?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    BH · 9 years ago
    I realize this was a piece of fiction, but I think you nailed exactly how the interveiw would go. I don't enough about General Dempsey to know for sure, but from what I've seen of him he is a politician through and through.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Welch · 9 years ago
    Mike you do good work bet your popular at the Penagon.I too have worked with higher headquaters and The State Department it would solve many problems if those folks were assigned to the combat zone for a time.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steamboat Jack · 9 years ago
    There is a rather surprising mechanism at work in the selection of senior officers. To get promoted past Colonel/Captain, you have to be approved by the Senate. I suspect that Republicans will pretty much rubber-stamp whoever the military asks to promote. However, they still have to please the Liberals who do not trust the military establishment. In order to get promoted, you have to at least mouth liberal pieties. Hence, you get General Officers like 4 star General Casey whose number one concern after the jihadist murdered thirteen people at fort Hood that his diversity program wouldn’t be adversely affected.

    In addition, I have friends who got out of the service because they would not serve under the command of Bill Clinton. This, of course left those who had no problem with working for someone that loathsome.

    The bottom line is that there is a selection process that promotes liberals. I am not surprised by the subject of your post.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    james · 9 years ago
    :-x Well sounds like "let me run and run and run around the bush!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DumbGrunt · 9 years ago
    I have heard the debate about the medevac birds, and they keep going around and around about red crosses (which I agree, if we fight against a non-geneva abiding enemy, we should take off, anyway...) and whether to arm the birds (which I don't care about- I suspect it has WAY more to do with medic-types not wanting to have to be proficient at medicine AND weaponry- besides, I don't want a "medic type" laying down suppressive fire within my LZ perimeter, anyway)...

    What I don't get is this: Medals of Honor were won in Vietnam, under similar conditions, when medevac pilots essentially said, "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!", and saved folks in extremely "hot" LZs. It seems to me like the crux of this issue isn't machine guns or red crosses, but that we have a new breed of medevac pilot that is too pu$$ified to land in a hot LZ without gunship support. That, or the "only land with gunships on station" rule is crippling medevac pilots' initiative... Red cross or not, a medevac pilot should still be able to put down and do his/her job, just like in RVN. Pure and simple.

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