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The Honorable (name)
Washington, DC (zip)
I would like to bring your attention to the Army’s current MEDEVAC process. Our Army MEDEVAC personnel do an outstanding job of taking care of our wounded warriors, and I would like to commend them. I have some concerns, however, with the process itself.
Army MEDEVAC helicopters are not armed, and are identified by a red cross. The Taliban view the red cross as symbolic of evil. They are aware that helicopters marked with red crosses are unarmed; this provides a perfect target and gives then additional incentives to shoot at Army MEDEVACs.
The Army has stated that the Geneva Conventions require that MEDEVACS be identified with a red cross. This is incorrect. Article 10 of Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions states: “that Medical units shall be respected and protected at all times and shall not be the object of attack.” The Geneva Conventions do not require that a conveyance carrying wounded personnel be marked, only that if they are marked they shall not be attacked. The Taliban are not signatories to the Geneva Conventions and do not follow Geneva Conventions mandates.
The Army has also stated that putting machine guns and machine gun crews on the MEDEVAC helicopters would make the helicopters too heavy. A review of the published specifications for MEDEVAC helicopters, however, shows that the additional weight of guns and crew would still fall well within the helicopter’s capabilities.
MEDEVAC helicopters typically launch in pairs, and depending upon the degree of risk at the landing zone, sometimes require an armed gunship helicopter as escort. If the MEDEVAC helicopters were armed, this could allow them to launch without having to wait for this armed escort gunship to be dispatched for missions that were determined to be medium or low risk. This would also free up the armed gunship to perform its primary mission.
Another part of the process is the Army’s criteria for who is permitted to authorize launching MEDEVAC helicopters. When the conditions at the landing zone are considered to be dangerous, the launch authority goes “uphill”, requiring a higher ranking person to authorize the launch. In some cases, this can result in delays getting the approval to launch, and that approval could be coming from an individual who is not stationed at the same location as the patient evacuation coordination center and who may not have a full understanding of the circumstances.
Prior to the Aircraft Transformation Initiative (ATI, implemented in 2005), launch authority rested with the MEDEVAC company commander, who was usually a captain. After the MEDEVAC units were absorbed into the General Support Aviation Battalions as part of the ATI, launch authority for the more dangerous missions was delegated to higher ranking officers, often to generals. Before ATI, MEDEVAC missions had a very high survival percentage rate for wounded soldiers—perhaps even higher than the 92% that General Dempsey quotes today. Shouldn’t launch authority be assigned to the person who knows the most about the battlefield conditions?
My foremost and primary wish is to do what is best for the patient—our military member. I am certain that our MEDEVAC personnel, and you, share that wish. Actions must be taken quickly to prevent any more of our soldiers from dying because of faulty Army processes. When one of our warriors is wounded, every minute counts.