Examiner.com: Is Army medevac policy killing our wounded troops?

By Lawrence Wood

UH60A MEDEVAC Dustoff helicopter launches for a mission Credit: U.S. Army

“The United State Army has a policy that is killing our wounded troops in Afghanistan.  U.S. Army medevac UH60s are unarmed and require by policy an armed escort before proceeding to pick up wounded troops.  Given the high demand for AH64 Apache gunships in-theater, this policy results in unnecessary and unreasonable delays.   On 18 September, 2011, the unnecessary death of a young soldier was documented by an independent third party.  The article disclosing to the world what happened has become known as “RED AIR”.

As reported by war correspondent Michael Yon in his dispatch titled “RED AIR-America’s Medevac Failure” (http://www.michaelyon-online.com/red-air-americas-medevac-failure.htm) , on 18 September, 2011, while on a mission in Afghanistan, SPC Chazray Clark had the bad misfortune to trigger an IED, severely wounding the young soldier.  Once the unit’s medics were able to assess his injuries, a medevac was immediately called for.  The unit immediately returned to their LZ with SPC Clark to await the arrival of the medevac UH60.

What happened was an obscenity.

USAF HH60G Pavehawk armed with two 7.62mm miniguns Credit: USA, USAF

The call was put in for a medevac Dustoff setting at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pasab approximately 5 minutes away.  Also based at Kandahar, AB, approximately 15 minutes away, were USAF PEDROs HH60G Pavehawks.  Since the weather was good, Army policy dictates that its wounded be medevaced by its own unarmed Dustoff UH60s.  The medevac helo waited 30 minutes on the ground for the arrival of the AH64 gunship required for escort by Army policy.  30 minutes which, 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 . . . SPC Chazray Clark grew weaker as time passed.

It took 65 minutes to get SPC Chazray Clark evacuated to a field hospital for treatment, even though FOB Pasab that the medevac helo was dispatched from was 10 minutes from the landing zone where SPC Clark lay dying.  SPC Chazray Clark died just after landing at Kandahar, AB.  Had the Army medevac helo been able to leave after notification of the medevac mission, without awaiting armed escort, SPC Clark would have been in the same field hospital within 24 minutes to 35 minutes, depending upon whether or not the medevac mission was launched from FOB Pasab or Kandahar, AB instead of the 65 minutes that it actually took.  Had SPC Chazray Clark been offloaded at the field hospital within 35 minutes, he would have survived his terrible wounds.

Time was the critical element as to whether or not SPC Chazray Clark lived or died after the IED was triggered.

The Army refuses to arm its medevac helicopters and insists on marking them with red crosses on white backgrounds so that the enemy has 1) a good aiming point, and 2) knows that they are unarmed.  While conforming to the Geneva Convention, the red crosses are not taken by Muslims with the same meaning as intended under the Geneva Convention.

The Army’s policy stems from WWI 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.

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 the soldiers of the Peoples’ Army of Viet Nam 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 G.I.s 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.

If the medevac site is declared “RED AIR” due to bad weather, 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.

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.

The courage, commitment, and dedication of Army medevac crews are legend.  They are not the issue.

The solution to the Army’s situation is simple:

1.  Remove the red crosses that are a point of contention between the Muslims and the Army.  The red cross was nothing more than a target since the Geneva Convention was written and last revised.  In Vietnam, the red cross did not protect our medevac Dustoffs.

2.  Arm the UH60A and UH60L medevac variants used in Afghanistan.  They have the same engines, payload, and performance as the UH60 Slick utility helicopters that are presently armed with M240 7.62mm machine guns.  The .50 caliber machine guns carried by the USAF PEDROs using basically the same helicopter with more sophisticated all weather sensors and in-flight refueling capability belie the Army’s argument that the 168lbs for two M2 .50 cal machine guns and 100 lbs of ammo for both guns would negatively impact the performance of the UH60A or L medevac Dustoff variant used by the Army.  See photo 3 of Nicole Sobrecki’s photo series (link below) showing an Army Dustoff unit in Afghanistan and the interior of the UH60A.

The issue is an Army policy that has no place on the modern battlefield, which serves only to reduce the effectiveness of its medical evacuation capability.  It is time this policy was changed.  To mark or not to mark or to arm or not to arm the Army’s medevac helicopters in a war zone should be a division command level decision.  The in-country, in-theater war fighter commander should have that authority.  The Army’s ability to timely evacuate a wounded soldier should not be held hostage to an inflexible and outdated policy that has never been observed by any enemy since WWII.

Op-ed by James Simpson in the Washington Times:


Article in the Army Times about Congressman Todd Akin’s (R-MI) letter to Sec Def Panetta:


Article in the Navy Times about Congressman Todd Akin’s (R-MI) letter to Sec Def Panetta


Michael Yon’s on-line magazine articles RED AIR:



CBS News interview with LTG Campbell regarding RED AIR and the Army’s policy:


Locally, the Frontiersman published my op-ed on the issue:


Photographs by Nicole Sobecki of an Army medevac unit in Afghanistan.  Photo 3 shows the interior of a UH60A medevac helicopter.  The gunners would sit in the two seats behind the sitting Marine that face outward toward the windows just behind the pilots.  This configuration belies the Army’s argument that he UH60 would suffer degraded performance and cause the removal of two litters from the helo were two .50 caliber machine guns to be mounted on the fuselage.


The U.S. Army’s Public Affairs Office response to the criticism of the Army’s medevac policy:


Article by James Simpson, D.C. Examiner:


Alaska has two Army brigades at JBER near Anchorage, and JBEW near Fairbanks.  Several hundred Alaska soldiers and at least one company of Alaska Army National Guard troops are presently deployed to Afghanistan.  This policy of having to await armed escort will have an impact upon these troops.

Please call or write Senator Mark Begich, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young and ask them to look into the Army policy of requiring an armed escort for medevac missions, which cause delays in reaching the wounded.  Were the UH60s armed, they would not need an armed escort, thus saving time.”

Read the entire article and comments here.
One Response to “Examiner.com: Is Army medevac policy killing our wounded troops?”
  1. Van Doren says:

    I was a Dustoff medic in Vietnam, 65-66. We were not supposed to attempt a rescue unless the LZ was secure, or we had gunship support. That was seldom the case, but we NEVER refused to go in! Our motto was: “No compromise, no rationalization, no hesitation; fly the mission NOW!” During my 16 month tour, we had only 1 ship shot down, and that was at a secure aid station.

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