Michael's Dispatches

RED CROSS: Symbol of Blood


image001-1000Photo Michael Yon

17 April 2012

Army Generals will have the public believe that the Red Cross is a morale booster for our troops.  That load of bull is too heavy even for a Blackhawk helicopter sling load.  During my about three years with combat troops downrange, I've never heard the slightest inkling of "morale boost" from troops who see a Red Cross.

The Red Cross boosts enemy morale. It alerts the Taliban that they have caused casualties.

For experienced American combat troops, the Red Cross symbol is associated with the sights and smells of your friend being blown to pieces and his shredded uniform draped high in the branches of a tree, or someone shot through the eye socket.  A Red Cross on a helicopter evokes memories of dusty landings to pick up wounded, dying, or dead.  Others will say that helicopters with Red Crosses and no machine guns leave wounded on battlefields due to ground fire.  And this is sometimes true.

Recently, there was a blood drive in a shopping mall.  The organizers displayed big Red Crosses, evoking memories of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yes, the Army Generals pretend that troops cheer at the vision of the Red Cross, when the Red Cross, like raw ground beef in the market, means something else.

Watching the Army drag the Red Cross into battle reminds us of how backwards the Army mindset really is.  We have gone through nearly a century of wars while the Army continues to display the Red Cross, and the symbol still draws enemy fire.  How many more wars must we undergo before someone says enough?

The only time I've seen troops who practically cheered for medical evacuation helicopters was in Sangin, Afghanistan, with British forces.  British Soldiers in Sangin were fighting well but taking terrible casualties.  The landing zones were hot.  Air Force Pedros would come in from Camp Bastion, miniguns on each side (they carry .50 caliber machine guns these days), with pararescue medics hanging with their legs out the doors and with their rifles in hand.  They roared in no matter what.  The Air Force had no distinctive crosses on their helicopters, and the British never mentioned the name "Pedro" without some level of reverence.  Pedro meant hospital.  “Red Cross” was tantamount to “can't land because the area was too dangerous.”  Pedro meant miniguns.  Red Cross meant delay.

To this day, the Red Cross symbol leads to unneeded delays and thus saps the morale of our troops, while bolstering Taliban morale and propaganda.

Some Army officers say that mounting machine guns provides a false sense of security on helicopters.  Another fable.  It doesn't even make sense.  This Army claim is so bizarre that I'm left without a response, so let's keep moving.

Defenders of the Red Cross will say that Pedro also gets hit, and if anything, that armed Pedros get hit more frequently per capita than unarmed Dustoffs wearing Red Crosses.  That's probably true considering that we send Pedro to the worst places, because Pedro has guns.  There is no doubt that on average, Pedro is sent to the most dangerous pick up zones because they have two .50 caliber machine guns on each bird.

Our supposedly war-wise Generals say that we are implementing COIN, or counterinsurgency, in Afghanistan.  Why, one might ask, if we are trying to win over Afghans with our COIN war, do we have helicopters wearing a symbol of the Crusades?

image003-1000Protest in Afghanistan, 2012. (Photo credit unknown)

The Red Crosses do these three things:

  1. Red Crosses alert the enemy that the helicopter is unarmed:  If Army Generals insist on sending unarmed helicopters into combat, it makes no sense to telegraph that fact to the enemy. Army Generals will try to change the subject by saying that adding machine guns adds weight, and this is true.  But if they insist on going unarmed, why then force our MEDEVAC crews to alert the enemy?  This makes zero sense.  A General who insists on alerting the enemy that our MEDEVACs are unarmed must think that we are stupid.  He's saying, "You are so dumb that I can tell you this and you will actually believe me because I wear these stars.  That's how dumb you are.  And we are winning the war.  Trust me."
  2. Red Crosses alert the Taliban that they caused casualties:  This is a terrible and free gift to the enemy.  First, the Taliban wound or kill our people, and then our Army Generals insist on broadcasting this fact to every village that the helicopters fly over.  We might as well paper the villages with leaflets saying,  "That boom that you just heard killed our guys.  The Taliban got us!  We thought that you'd like to know. Friendly reminder: Every time that you see the Red Cross, the Taliban succeeded again."
  3. Red Crosses are an EVIL SYMBOL to many Afghans: This is the “Counterinsurgency” that our Generals brag about.

The Crosses are to Pashtun Muslims as swastikas are to Jews.  (For that matter, Israeli Jews and Muslims also don't want Red Cross crusaders flying overhead.) I have written about this before, and high-ranking officers have said my reports are incorrect.  They say that Afghans are not bothered by the Red Cross.  Let’s examine this:

From a book called Passing it On: Fighting the Pushtun on Afghanistan's Frontier.  This book was written by the British General Sir Andrew Skeen, and published in 1932.

General Sir Skeen writes of the Red Cross:



And so at least one General agrees, and he agreed back in 1932.  In places like Afghanistan, the difference between 1932 and today can be minimal.  But just in case our Generals come back and say that I am wrong again, please note this photograph of a poster of evil symbols, tacked up on a wall in a village in Eastern Afghanistan:

crosses tb1000Mark of the Beast: Evil symbols of Afghanistan.

The issue transcends this war.  During World War I, the Germans sank plainly marked hospital ships, sending them to the bottom of the sea.  During World War II, the Japanese, and the Germans (largely Christians themselves), were shooting at Red Crosses.  The Koreans and the Viet Cong/NVA did the same.  Those wars were not about religion.

image009-1000Red Crosses did not ward off enemy fire during World War I

During the Vietnam War, a war that has some similarities to Afghanistan today, Red Crosses alerted the Viet Cong that they’d whacked some Americans, as opposed to unmarked helicopters that might have been landing to deliver more troops or ammo.

Helicopters with Red Crosses landing on hot pick up zones tell the Taliban with certainty that they are not reinforcing or resupplying, but are extracting dead or wounded.  (Helicopters wearing Red Crosses are not permitted to deliver war supplies or combat troops.  They also are not permitted to fly over the enemy, but we ignore that rule, which causes one to wonder if we also ignore the rules prohibiting resupply and reinforcement.)

The Red Cross:

  1. Alerts the enemy that helicopters are unarmed.
  2. Alerts the enemy that they have caused casualties.
  3. Alerts the enemy that the helicopter is not carrying supplies or reinforcements.
  4. Is an "evil" symbol in Afghanistan.
  5. Reminds our forces of losses.  (Every time you see MEDEVACs fly you think someone got hit.)
  6. Boosts enemy morale.
  7. Provides Taliban with propaganda tool. (“The Crusaders are back.”)
  8. Provides Taliban with second propaganda. (“We killed Crusaders.”)
  9. Is a glaring symbol of top leadership incompetence, hidebound bureaucratic parochialism, and the willingness of ranking officers to deceive the public and elected representatives while peddling BS to our own troops.
  10. Doesn't work.

Some will blame the President for the Red Cross debacle, but if we are to blame this President, we'll have to reach back and blame Presidents who have been buried for decades.  If we are to blame something on Presidents, let’s at least stick to what they are responsible for, and to what they should reasonably be expected to know about.

The Dustoff issue is huge if you are a wounded trooper, or a Taliban commander who wants to know if he caused casualties, or who wants free morale boosters and propaganda tools.  But on the national scale, the deaths caused by helicopters wearing Red Crosses are mere angel dust, and will escape a President’s attention if we don’t bring it up, and point out how poorly the Army is managing its affairs, and how badly the Army is serving our troops, our sons and daughters.  The Red Cross symbol is not the disease, but a symptom of something fundamental.

The Red Cross has become a symbol of intergenerational Army inanity, and our failure in Afghanistan.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    robin yates · 9 years ago
    the management of American wars is less than bad it is pure shit!If these arm chair Generals had any combat experience at all, it would be a different story.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    karen · 9 years ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dang · 9 years ago
    Soldiers wear the American Flag on their sleeves and we fly our American Flag over our outposts. It inflames the Taliban that our flag is there as well. So, should we require flags to be taken off of uniforms and taken down from our outposts? You obviously have not spoken with those who have been rescued by DUSTOFF enough to sway your myopic crusade. "I knew you'd come!" That's what the Infantryman believes.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Leyla Najma · 9 years ago
      I think you are totally missing Mike's point. The Red Cross symbolizes unarmed men, while men wearing the American flag on their sleeves have the chance to be armed and defend themselves. If the men who rescue those who are hurt are themselves killed then there is no saving grace here...
      • This commment is unpublished.
        Hercdriver · 9 years ago
        [quote name="Leyla Najma"]I think you are totally missing Mike's point. The Red Cross symbolizes unarmed men, while men wearing the American flag on their sleeves have the chance to be armed and defend themselves. If the men who rescue those who are hurt are themselves killed then there is no saving grace here...[/quote]

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heywood Jablomi · 9 years ago
    It is time for a purge of the general officer ranks, and of most field grade officers. And the ranks of the highest NCOs. For if ranking CSMs are not going to rein in generals and give them a dose of reality, why are they still serving?

    Here is the rule of thumb:

    If field grade and senior CSM's have not served long and hard tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is time for them to retire. The only leaders that should remain on active duty are combat veterans of multiple tours.

    Purge the politicians and bureaucrats. Fire at least 0% of all cubicle warriors at the Pentagon. Separate those soldiers who hid out at Army schools for the past ten years, like the Sergeant Major of the Army, who bunkered in at the Sergeant's Major Academy for year after year, while better men than himself deployed for tour after tour downrange.

    Why downsize the Army and the USMC, shrinking the size of combat-ready units, when there are so many politicians and bureaucrats on active duty who contribute nothing to core missions?

    Who is making these decisions?

    I will tell you: bureaucratic and political officers.

    In other words, precisely those officers who should not be entrusted to decide anything, because they will seek to save themselves first, regardless of the actual needs of the service. How else to explain the absurd resistance to arm medevac helicopters and the refusal to remove Red Crosses?

    These are officers who do not make decisions in accordance with commonsense. They act to support bureaucratic positions, fiefdoms, and parochial values.

    These are officers who should retire, but they linger, because they have kids in expensive universities, or they have to pay down mortgages on summer cottages, or on their stupid boats. How many jackass officers working at the Pentagon have boats moored at the shore? A lot of them. You would be staggered to learn how many. This alone should be used as a means to identify those who should be immediately retired.

    It is time to reform the American military. Downsizing is fine. But it is quite probable that the military cannot be entrusted to downsize itself. This debacle with Red Crosses merely underscores how idiotic that our military leadership is.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 9 years ago
    Michael, its so obvious, but some people can't see it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    1IDVET · 9 years ago
    What the hell does that have to do with this issue?
    The Infantryman will still say: "I knew you'd come" without a red cross on the side of the helicopter.
    Having a subdued flag on your uniform doesn't equate to this. In fact, I think it's a pathetic attempt at distracting from the issue.
    Sorry that your butt head generals are being viewed in such a poor light Dang, but those idiots are the problem.
    Why would you be against taking off the red cross? Especially in light of the facts presented.
    I haven't seen a good argument yet for keeping them on the aircraft. Not one.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rudy · 9 years ago
    Leave them for Lucifer - then they will know the real beast...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rudy · 9 years ago
    Leave them for Lucifer - they will meet the real beast...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cdrupnorth · 9 years ago
    After I insured from the medic on the ground that the casualties could wait until exfil, I turned off a medevac so as to not give the Taliban the IO victory. Red cross is as old as the Crimean War (best remembered for the charge of the light brigade) and carried on with our naive and selective adherence to the Geneva Convention. Red crosses need to go. They are tactically counterproductive; the enemy has been aiming at them as long as we have used them.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Hercdriver · 9 years ago
      I used to fly civilian Hercs around African war zones, (Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola, Sudan), hauling relief supplies into hot areas for the ICRC. We don't call the Herc the "Whisperpig" for nothing. When you're low and slow on approach or air dropping food, you're a big, fat target to any bush African toting an
      AK or RPK. I always requested that the red cross symbols be inscribed on the vertical stabilizers instead of the noses so they would aim at the tail insignia and miss instead of at the nose symbol and get a possible hit. Nobody has ever taught Africans how to shoot ducks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Colin P · 9 years ago
    Even when it is patently obvious,change in bureaucracy doesn't come easy. Keep the heat on...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pat · 9 years ago
    The Japanese regularly bombed field hospitals and kamikazes targeted hospital ships at Okinawa.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elaine · 9 years ago
    Well, bless their little evil hearts. Okay, then bring them home!
    And, when they are being slaughtered, beheaded and their wives and daughters are being raped... this is YOUR evidence of just how ignorant and stupid you are!
    Bring them home!
    And, IF, they start crying out again for help, their govt. WILL sign an agreement.
    We WILL have the U.S. Flag, the RED Cross that represent OUR help.
    You will comply...or we won't be there.
    Fight your own battles or STFU.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elaine · 9 years ago
    Army Generals: Begging to lose -- BRING THEM HOME!!!


  • This commment is unpublished.
    steven olson · 9 years ago
    I would think some major newspapers or even 60 Minutes would jump on the topic of the Army's silly policy. Have you made inquiries to gauge interest, Mike Y?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    FThomas · 9 years ago
    Everything that Michael has said about the "Red Cross" on the aircraft is true. Why the Command and General Staff College continues to tell our "Major Catastrophies" that they are so brilliant is beyond me.

    The Taliban, VC, Japanese and Germans purposely target(ed) the Red Cross because it will demoralize our troops and insure that there are less troops to recuperate and return to fight another day. It should also be noted that the Islamic perspective on the Red Cross goes all the way back to The Crusades.

    So the CGSC continues to educate the future self absorbed and moronic commanders we have seen surrounding this issue. Not one of them has the courage to utilize common sense and logic and go against the grain of their Commanding Generals. After all, they worry more about their next Officers Evaluation Report and getting their ticket punched for the next promotion than about their troops. Sad, sad, sad!
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Cdrupnorth · 9 years ago
      First off CGSC does not exist anymore. It's ILE and no one thinks it's special. This topic unfortunately is not a subject of instruction. That is not the purpose of the course. This post, and some others, seem to be grinding the old ax against officers. Tired and often untrue. Officer griping goes as far back as warfare and it's part of the background noise but is usually ill informed and exaggerated. Dick winters was an officer and Hal moore was a CgSc grad. Tell their men officers aren't needed and can't be good. Incidentally, I agree with Yon on this, am a CGSC grad and as posted above, rerouted a medevac bird for this reason in combat--last week. Let's keep the discussion on topic rather than broad sweeping generalizations on the level of professionalism of a segment of a tired army.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elaine · 9 years ago
    @Leyla, I probably did miss the point...I have been online all day, and my brain is fried!
    I will be back 2morrow and "re-read it."
    Thank you for bringing that to my attention.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    D-bar · 9 years ago
    LOL ok, one, i am active army, infantry NCO and been deployed multiple times. The red cross is a huge morale boost, the men i work with love seein it, and not just in combat, its a boost seeing it fly in America too.
    To me and the men i work with, its a symbol that when I get hurt there are people there for me. I have called in 2 medevacs myself in combat and each time the troops let out a huge whoop of excitement when they saw it. The only MOS that infantry will never give any jokes too or raggin on is medics, we hold them in the highest respect, we dont put them on details, we protect them on patrols etc.
    The red cross is a huge morale boost, anyone who says different is either a fobbit sitting comfortably behind a desk knowing he will never be picked up by one, or he is someone that has never had to deploy, or he is ignorant of how the troops actually behave.

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