Michael's Dispatches

Tricky Business: British Forces at War


04 December 2011

The call sign for British medical evacuation helicopters is “Tricky.”  Tricky is constantly involved with medical evacuations in Afghanistan.   Their methods vary significantly from ours.  For that matter, US Army, Air Force and Marine methods vary dramatically from one another.

The underlying American philosophy for conventional troops is to scoop up casualties and get them back to the hospital, ideally while highly trained medics go to work.

US Special Operations Forces often bring their own surgeons.  Likewise, the British use Chinook helicopters with surgical crews who can push blood and start doctor-level work right there in the bird.

There are ups and downs to the British versus conventional US Army, Air Force, and Marine ideas.  At times, the British way of showing up in a faster-flying helicopter with a surgical crew can be superior to the US conventional forces.  Other times, the British way is inferior to all.

For instance, in many (probably most) cases in Helmand province, Dustoff and especially Pedro can have the patient inside the bird and possibly back at the hospital before Tricky even launches.  There is much nuance and circumstance to the ground realities.  The factors are myriad and dynamic.

As the months unfold you’ll likely see mention of “Tricky” on many occasions, and so this is a good time to introduce these outstanding British troops.

In this video, a Tricky pilot gets shot in the head, and in true warrior spirit he stays on mission.

(This video was shot at Camp Bastion, the same base where I embedded with Air Force Pedro.)

Say something here...
You are a guest ( Sign Up ? )
or post as a guest
People in conversation:
Loading comment... The comment will be refreshed after 00:00.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Austen Lennon · 10 years ago
    Sometimes hard to describe what it is to be British and why we are proud to be British.... I think this describes it very well.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Sandra · 10 years ago
      That absolutely does hit the nail on the head. Love the reserve of the Brits.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon · 10 years ago
      I have huge respect for British forces. They always treated me well, and took good care in combat. British forces can always count on my support.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John House · 10 years ago
    God love-em
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rufus · 10 years ago
    Great report, but I have to ask what the reporter thought he was getting into by taking that medevac flight.

    He should be celebrating surviving, not worrying about what could have been.

    But again, great report. I hope he sticks with it. Having the balls to report from Afghanistan instead of London is a good start.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Jonny P · 9 years ago
      The reporter is known in the UK as primarily a motoring journalist, even doing TV ads for car supermarkets. A war reporter he ain't. But then, maybe that's the point. He's the man in the street and his reactions will be emotional, rather than mechanical like your usual 24/7 war reporter. Still out of his depth, though!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mary Dixon · 10 years ago
    Good thing I have a box of tissues on my desk. Words aren't enough right now.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JeffSchrade · 10 years ago
    Thanks for posting... Reading about the British way of field combat medicine reminded me of the accident Princess Diana was involved in.

    The French have the same approach as the British and when Diana was injured in Paris, she was treated by a doctor on the scene for 40 minutes before being transported -- slowly, at the doctor's request -- to the hospital. Some have speculated that she may have been saved if she had been taken directly to hospital.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Chuck · 10 years ago
      Speculation by people who weren't there and probably aren't doctors. Not to mention time taken to remove the patient from the car, a complex and delicate procedure at the best of times. It's simply a case of letting the most qualified person on the scene make a decision. Ultimately that's the best chance anyone has. That decision is often to 'scoop and run' and just as often to stabilise before movement. As Michael said; it's a dynamic environment.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bendaco · 10 years ago
    Amazing! Glad to consider them our cousins across the pond! God bless them!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Belcher · 10 years ago
    That particular Chinook is coded [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bravo_November]Bravo November[/url] and has been in service with the RAF since before the Falklands War in 1982.

    A full report was on the The Guild of Air Pilots & Air Navigators site when Flt Lt Fortune was awarded...

    [QUOTE]The Grand Master’s Commendation

    Awarded at the discretion of the Grand Master for an act of valour or outstanding services in the air.


    Citation: On 29 January 2010 Flight Lieutenant Fortune, a Chinook pilot, was in charge of the Immediate Response Team, part of the Joint Helicopter Force in Afghanistan. He was on his second tour but his first as an aircraft captain. Scrambled to an incident to conduct an emergency medical evacuation of six casualties with gunshot wounds, the crew were informed that two of the casualties were critical and their condition was worsening. On arrival at the scene it was discovered that the ground controller who would normally coordinate the extraction was one of the casualties. Flt Lt Fortune manoeuvred his aircraft into an emergency landing site, as close to the casualties as possible, while an Apache helicopter suppressed the insurgent firing points. Before the casualties could be loaded, the insurgents engaged with accurate fire; Flt Lt Fortune held position until all casualties were safely on board.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      John Belcher · 10 years ago
      [QUOTE]As the aircraft departed it was engaged again. A round came through the windscreen, hit the front of Flt Lt Fortune's helmet and shattered his visor, causing deep lacerations to his face. Although the pilot's windscreen was shattered and partly opaque, Flt Lt Fortune elected to retain control and he continued to take evasive action. The aircraft was hit a total of 8 times resulting in a series of system failures including damage to the flight stabilisation system and forward transmission. Flt Lt Fortune with confidence and inspirational composure calmly diagnosed the faults, took appropriate corrective action, briefed his intentions to his team, and kept the aircraft as stable as possible to enable the medical team to work on the casualties.

      Flt Lt Fortune flew at maximum speed to the medical facility at Camp Bastion and had the presence of mind to land his heavily damaged aircraft on the side of the landing site so as not to block it. Only once the casualties were then offloaded and, the aircraft shut down, did he accept medical attention. All of the casualties survived and the assessment of the doctors was that one of them would have died had he not been evacuated in such a timely fashion.

      During this incident, Flt Lt Fortune displayed extreme professionalism and airmanship. His actions saved the life of at least one of the casualties and probably prevented the loss of his aircraft, with all on board. His remarkable courage, composure and selflessness are wholly deserving of appropriate recognition and Flt Lt Fortune is accordingly awarded the Grand Master’s Commendation.[/QUOTE]
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leyla Najma · 10 years ago
    We all need to see this to see what these guys go thru on a daily basis. Unbelievable!
    Thank you for sharing!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chuck · 10 years ago
    Thank you for drawing attention to Flt Lt Fortune's(apt name) immense bravery and professionalism. Such actions can't be praised enough. Looking forward to seeing more of British troops in your upcoming reports. :-)

    For an interview and to see how close the bullet was, the beeb has coverage here; [url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/1026 71 ]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/1026 71 [/url] Since it was filmed he has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and deservedly so I think we can all agree.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Frank · 10 years ago
    Talk about luck! The pilot is dam lucky.They did a fantatic job bringing in the cripple chopter. The commentator looks and sounds like the guy from the Wheeler Dealer show.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James · 10 years ago
    "Okay chaps, just to let you know..."

    Brilliant line! Perhaps sums up best the stoicism of some of the lads (and ladies, natch) out there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John-Capt in ANG · 10 years ago
    This is why it really, really pisses me off anytime I hear a disparaging word about our British comrades. It's very common to hear a US Army soldier grumbling, etc, but without exception every British soldier I've come into contact with were very positive and professional. Again, without exception. I've been here in Afghanistan going on my second year, and it's been an honor to work with them. I had an occasion to fly on a British cargo plane (Thumper 76 I believe) down to Kandahar, and again, top notch.

    British forces brought in Ryder Cup Captain , Colin Montgomerie, with the actual Ryder Cup throught Afghanistan just a couple weeks ago.

    We truly are exceptionally blessed to have such a capable, willing, and professional ally as we do in Great Britain.

    Link to Colin's visit:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/golf/8924 76/Colin-Montgomerie-hails-life-changing-experience-after-Afghanistan-morale-boosting-mission-with-Ryder-Cup.html
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 10 years ago
    Have to say it but the days of the hard charging journalists who reported in Vietnam have long gone. This guy was a soft c**k or maybe this is the way they make programs these days full of hyped drama.
    Eight rounds into a Chinook and he he acts like he just went thru a major battle..
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Wstr · 10 years ago
      Little harsh there. The chap in question (Mike Brewer) is not a war correspondent but a run of the mill TV presenter. As an ex-car dealer, he specialises in motoring shows. Discovery series 'Frontline Battle Machines' was mainly about him explaining different vehicles (cars->MRAP connection) & helicopters.
      AFAIK this was the first time he has been in a war zone and shot at, so can be afforded a little latitude. Especially as he wasn't a gibbering wreck whilst in his first contact; only deflated after the coming off the adrenaline high.
      • This commment is unpublished.
        John-Capt in ANG · 10 years ago
        Everyone has an idea in their head, but you never know what your reaction will be until the first time you actually look down the barrel of a gun pointed at you, or get attacked. Even though I'd been through a few attacks, the first time I heard one of our heavy machine guns open up in response the reality set in that great violence beget even greater violence, and just how close I was to the action. I'm a space weenie, so my "support" was previously from 11,500 miles away (GPS semi sync orbit).
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Patrick R. Glass · 10 years ago
    The narrator in the video is in the wrong business. This guy is in a complete panic, even after they land. I can remember inspecting bullet holes in my aircraft, but I didn't slump against the fuel pod and breathe deeply. Most of the time, in fact, we laughed with the knowledge that we had "cheated death again." The pilot, on the other hand, represents the great tradition of combat helicopter pilots, described by Joe Galloway as, "God's own lunatics." Full disclosure, I flew Chinooks in Vietnam.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris A. · 10 years ago
    Great composure under fire. ...With two deployments under my belt, I mean it when I say that the British have done nothing but impress me. ...as an American UH-60 Pilot myself, there's no one who I would trust more to have my back than the Brits. God Bless & Keep up the good work! Above the Best!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gismo fly · 10 years ago
    Americans have this trick of making the Brits blush. It's lovely to see and it makes you want to cuddle a Yank.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    catchesthewind · 10 years ago
    I would be a door gunner for him anytime.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pilot Medical · 10 years ago
    Thanks for the post.
    It was really helpful to solve my confusion.

    Occupational Medicine

Reader support is crucial to this mission. Weekly or monthly recurring ‘subscription’ based support is the best, though all are greatly appreciated.  Many methods are available to keep the work rolling. Click the image for a more info.



Quick Link to Paypal

Recurring Donation

QR Code

QR Code


To support using Venmo, send to:


My BitCoin QR Code

Use the QR code for BitCoin apps:


Or click the link below to help support the next dispatch with bitcoins: