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DUSTOFF Medevac: General -- Medal of Honor recipient -- Slams Army


15 October 2012

The publisher sent me an advance copy of the book “Dead Men Flying.”  I am only half-way through (excellent so far), and just saw this article about the book.  General (ret.) Patrick Brady is a man to listen to.  He is a famous Dustoff pilot who received the Medal of Honor, and this book recounts those times.

Numerous current Dustoff pilots have asked me if I know Major General (ret.) Brady, and about his thoughts on Dustoff.  I do not know him, but this book makes you feel like you are flying with him.  He is down to earth in the way that true veterans usually are.

This article lays bare some of Patrick Brady’s thoughts on our current DUSTOFF debacle:

General slams military for forgetting history
Medal of Honor recipient says focus no longer on wounded

Written By: Kevin DeAnna

Vietnam32-290x275A “very, very disappointed” Gen. Patrick Brady has slammed the U.S. Army for forgetting the lessons of the legendary “Dust Off” helicopter ambulance program from the Vietnam War.

It was in an interview on “Talk Back with Chuck Wilder,” that Brady, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, explained that bureaucratic changes within the Army are endangering wounded soldiers.

He’s also the author of “Dead Men Flying: Victory in Vietnam.”

“The focus is not on the patient,” he explained, noting that increased emphasis has been placed on risk assessment, command and control, and other factors that “Dust Off” pilots in Vietnam “had not even heard of.”

During the Vietnam War, helicopter rescue pilots had autonomy to accept missions themselves and determine the level of risk. Even though Brady has “talked to as many people as I can get to,” it appears that risk-averse policies from rear-echelon commanders are more important than the opinions of pilots.

“They took control of a medical service away from doctors and gave it to aviation staff officers,” he said.

The result is that before a rescue operation can be launched, the mission must be approved by someone who is not even on the battlefield. He explained a patient’s survival depends on the decision from someone who is in no position to actually observe his condition.

Furthermore, the missions are launched using an unnecessary number of helicopters and gunships, meaning that the Army actually is providing less efficient and effective rescue operations with “four engines, compared to what we used to do with one.”

Brady recounted an especially hurtful story of how an American soldier turned his back on him when he learned the general was a “Dust Off” pilot, mistakenly associating him with the modern program that leaves soldiers wounded on the battlefield until it is too late.

WB243As an example, Brady told a story from Afghanistan where a wounded American soldier was trapped on a mountainside, while the enemy was on the other side of the mountain. A simple rescue mission was not approved until the next morning.

The general noted that helicopter pilots are as able as ever to participate in rapid rescue efforts, but they are hamstrung by official guidelines that prevent them from acting. Host Chuck Wilder observed that it sounds similar to the “red tape” of government regulation.

In contrast, “Dust Off” operations during Vietnam were regarded as primarily a medical service, and its pilots held to a strict code that put patients first. Maj. Charles Kelly, regarded as the father of “Dust Off,” exemplified the standard.

He died when he refused to leave a hot landing zone, saying he would only escape “When I have your wounded.” Soon after that, he was shot and killed.

Wilder explored Brady’s actions as leader of the 54th Medical Detachment, drawing some acknowledgement of Brady’s accomplishments out of the modest general. The unit rescued more than 21,000 wounded in 10 months.

When Brady stated that his unit found a way to fly in zero visibility fog, Wilder corrected him and stated that it was Brady personally who discovered the technique of flying into the fog sideways to gain the tiny visibility needed to determine direction.

Brady credited his faith in God with his survival in combat and his ability to save so many lives.

“My faith was a substitute for fear,” he said.

Wilder commented, “It ought to be a movie, it ought to be a book” before remembering, “it is a book!”

“Dead Men Flying” by Brady is being reissued by WND books and is available now in a new edition.

Brady’s coauthor is his daughter, Capt. Meghan Brady Smith, an Iraq war veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    okiquit · 9 years ago
    Medevacs for my Marine unit in South Vietnam were often flown by the 4 6th Medical Detachment out of Danang. My admiration for those pilots and crews will never die. They saved lives every day, very often by risking their own.

    You would think that Marine units would call Marine assets for medevacs and, in most cases, that was true. But our AO was characterized by LZs that were too small and restricted for use by CH-46s the Marines flew. And on the few occasions when Marine choppers were dispatched for our medevacs, they would not land in a hot LZ, or even a lukewarm LZ. They preferred an ice cold LZ, no doubt due to some SOP we were not aware of on the ground. I only know we felt angry and helpless watching the life leak out of our buddies while a chopper orbited overhead until a half hour after the last shot was fired.

    The Huey crews of the 4 6th would come up on a freq while inbound, get all the standard poop about the LZ, wind, number and priority of wounded, etc. Then in most cases they came right in, landing on top of our marker, day or night, rain or shine. We hustled our KIAs and WIAs aboard and off they went with a roar. First request to skids clear was sometimes as little as 20 minutes!!! And I remember the occasional WHANG! sound of a AK round punching through a chopper's skin.

    Years later I was waiting for a flight at an airport in Missoula, Mont., when an Army Huey landed nearby. I tracked down the pilot and fulfilled a promise to myself and my WIAs. I asked the man if he had ever flown medevacs and when he replied 'Yes' I shook his hand and thanked him.

    I know very little about the 4 6th and its procedures or command structure. But I got the impression the pilots were in charge. The pilots worked the equation factoring in weather, enemy dispositions, number and severity of wounded, etc., etc. And the pilot decided whether to land for our wounded. Thanks to those pilots and crews I know a dozen men who are alive today, enjoying their grandkids, maybe limping a little, but still able to put their hands over their hearts for the Star Spangled Banner.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Andrew · 9 years ago
    After several tours and years flying Dustoff in the GWOT and the MAST mission that we did before the wars, I can say with full assurance that nobody knows more about their area of operation than a Dustoff Command Pilot and their crew. They might not know the theater, or even have a full knowledge on the ins and outs of the sectors outside their assigned area, but they know their assigned geography like they know their own bedroom when they wake up in the night to take a leak. Why the Command Pilot and crew have to receive orders to go or not go from 100 or more miles away is a mystery to me. Once again, as they have done several times before, the Aviation Branch and its Generals screwed up a perfectly good system that should have been left alone to do its stellar work with decades of success to speak for itself. In spite of the best efforts by several other “control” entities to further screw the mission up, the Dustoff guys and gals doing the mission in bad places are still doing their best to get folks out and to hospitals, and in most instances, they are still able do it faster than anyone else.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    FThomas · 9 years ago
    As a young Warrant Officer 1 going through AMED at Fort Sam Houston, General Brady set the standard for me to fully understand "Duty, Honor, Country" as it related to my responsibilities to the troops in the field. I had a mission to fly to save lives and that meant at all costs - Get the mission accomplished and everyone home safe!

    General Brady is the most decorated, but I'm sure he would agree that there are many unsung hero's who flew DustOff with the US Army in Vietnam and every war since.

    I look forward to reading his book and only wish I could get a signed copy. General Brady is a living legend!

    I only wish he could throw his weight behind what Michael has reported on DustOff in Afghanistan and Iraq and get things changed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DeAnna · 9 years ago
    Will have to look for it for sure.

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