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Full disclosure: I have a personal interest. My oldest son, whom I cherish and of whom I am more proud than I could ever say, is a crew chief on a Chinook helicopter and due to deploy for his second tour in Afghanistan next year.
I have nothing but respect for members of the US Military. When duty calls, they answer; putting lives and skills on the line. With them being involved in a few shooting wars, that answer regularly results in casualties. What happens when one of these men and women are shot, stabbed, blown up or otherwise wind up WIA?
The simple answer is they send a medevac helicopter to get you. That simplicity is misleading as there are factors involved which impact how soon it arrives.
It’s not the medevac crews. To them, it doesn’t matter how bad the weather is. It doesn’t matter how many enemy are shooting at you. Nothing matters except you need them to be there 5 minutes ago. The sooner they take off, the sooner they get there, the sooner a soldier gets attention. That’s what they do.
Marine and Air Force medevacs arrive equipped to deal with any situation. The aircraft sport mini-guns and personnel carry weapons. They carry medical gear and their medical training is elite. They play offense and defense ridiculously high above the rim. Michael Yon writes about them in an insightful piece, Pedros.
The one thing these angels of mercy don’t have is a red cross painted on their aircraft.
Army medevacs still display the cross. They don’t have to. The Army chooses to. According to the Geneva Convention, an aircraft with the cross cannot be armed. Thus, for Army medevacs, before they take off, they wait for an armed Apache helicopter to defend them since they cannot defend themselves.
This is not a swipe at Army medevac crews. They are just as highly trained and committed to their craft as their Marine and USAF counterparts. In fact, their unofficial motto is “No guns, just balls!” This is an accusation of malfeasance and dereliction against those who continue to insist on outdated and dangerous policy which puts soldiers lives at risk when seconds matter.
The problems with this policy are legion. It gives the enemy two targets, it takes Apaches away from other combat missions, it adds wear and tear on aircraft, and, most importantly, it puts soldiers lives at risk. It has resulted in the death of American soldiers who waited longer than necessary. Michael Yon personally witnessed such a travesty. He wrote about it in Red Air: America’s Medevac Failure.
If you sell helicopters and parts, this is a good deal. Ditto if your military command wants bragging rights to controlling all those aircraft. If you are family to a soldier in harm’s way, not so much, to say nothing of what it means to soldiers themselves.
The simple fix, remove red crosses and add guns to Army medevacs, is being resisted by the Army. Why seems irrelevant and unacceptable given the stakes. Soldiers need to know help is inbound. Now! Not after 10 minutes; not after 10 seconds but 10 seconds ago!
Please, write your US Congressmen and Senators. Send them Michael Yon’s open letter to the President and the Secretary of Defense. Tell them to tell the Army to take crosses off, put guns on and go, go, go … somewhere a soldier needs that medevac!