Mat-Su Valley Frontiersmen: Medevac policy is costing lives

By Larry Wood

“The U.S. Army has a policy that is killing our wounded troops. The Army refuses to arm its medevac helicopters and insists on marking them with red crosses on white backgrounds so the enemy has a good aiming point and knows that they are not armed. The other services do not have specific helicopter assets marked as air ambulances with red crosses on white backgrounds, nor do they fly unarmed helos in a war zone.

The army’s policy stems from World War I when medical personnel and ambulances were marked with red crosses and were technically non-combatants. However, that civilized idea did not last long on the battlefield. By World War II, red crosses were scrubbed off infantryman medic helmets and a rifle replaced the armband once the medic reached the battlefield. In Korea and Vietnam, medics did not wear red crosses as part of their battle uniform. All the red crosses did was provide a good aiming point, and being unarmed left the medic at the mercy of the enemy.

 During the war in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), the army’s Vietnam Dustoff (medevac) UH1Ds and UH1Hs were still painted with red crosses on white backgrounds, giving the Viet Cong and soldiers of the Peoples’ Army of Vietnam readily identifiable aiming points. The medevac helos were armed or not, depending upon policy at the time. A documentary shot in 1966 called “The Anderson Platoon,” a story about the experiences of an infantry platoon of the 1st CAV in the RVN, has two medevac scenes with wounded GIs being medevaced by armed Hueys marked with red crosses on white backgrounds. The point being, at that time early in the war (unlike the Army medevac UH60s of Iraq and Afghanistan) in 1966, the Army 1st CAV Dustoff Hueys were armed.

The U.S. Army has a goal of getting any wounded troops to a medical facility within 60 minutes of notification of the need for medevac. On paper, this sounds good for our guys and gals who have been wounded. In practice, there is a serious kink in the policy that belies any intent that the first priority is to get the wounded to a medical facility ASAP. That kink is the requirement for the Army’s unarmed medevac helo to be escorted by an AH64 Apache gunship.

If the medevac site is declared “RED AIR,” then the USAF PEDRO UH60G Pavehawks are called in with their advanced all-weather instruments and sensors. Since the PEDROs are armed, they do not require any gunship escort.

As reported by war correspondent Michael Yon in his dispatch titled “RED AIR —America’s Medevac Failure” ( on Oct. 12, 2011, while on a mission in Afghanistan, SPC Chazray Clark had the misfortune to trigger an IED, severely wounding the young soldier. He lost both legs and one arm in the explosion. The explosion also incapacitated another soldier. Once the unit’s medics were able to assess his injuries, a medevac was immediately called for. The unit immediately returned to its landing zone with SPC Clark to await the arrival of the medevac UH60.

What happened was an obscenity.

The call was put in for a medevac sitting at a forward operating base approximately 10 minutes away. Also based at the same location were USAF PEDROs. Since the weather was good, the Army required that its wounded be medevaced by its own helos. The medevac helo waited 30 minutes on the ground for the arrival of the AH64 gunship required for escort by Army policy. That 30 minutes for SPC Clark, his comrades and the medevac helo crew must have seemed like an eternity. However, policy is policy, and the rules must be followed — and SPC Chazray Clark grew weaker as time passed.

It took 65 minutes to get SPC Chazray Clark evacuated to a field hospital for treatment. Clark died just after landing. Had the Army medevac helo been able to leave after notification of the medevac mission, without awaiting escort, SPC Clark would have been in the same field hospital in 35 minutes instead of 65 minutes and could have survived his terrible wounds.

No other service flies unarmed helos in a war zone. No other service forces its wounded to await evacuation based upon a policy that requires waiting for an armed gunship escort.

It is bad enough that the Army still marks its medevac helos with red crosses following an outmoded and obsolete policy in a war that was not anticipated under the Geneva Convention. The Taliban is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention.

The courage, commitment and dedication of Army medevac crews are legend. They are not the issue. The issue is an Army policy that has no place on the modern battlefield and reduces the effectiveness of its medical evacuation capability.

Please contact our congressional delegation and request they look into this outmoded, idiotic and inane policy that is killing our wounded. An independent observer documented SPC Clark’s case. How many others have died needlessly because of the Army’s refusal to arm its medevac helicopters?”

The entire article and comments can be read here.

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