Updated on November 15, 2015
Sgt. Robert Cowdrey, a flight medic in Company C., 3rd Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division Combat Aviation Brigade, prepares a casualty in a rescue sled to be hoisted hundreds of feet into a Black Hawk helicopter during a training exercise on Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Brian was killed on 13 Oct in spite of have superior covering fire support while loading casualties onto a MEDEVAC chopper. There is no way to protect 100% of the troops 100% of the time. Unfortunately, in war Soldiers are sometimes asked to lay down their lives for others. Brian happened to be a good friend so I take a personal interest in the inaccuracies and agenda of the original story.
In response to a typical post-disembed Michael Yon rant, ISAF released the following statement:
Michael Yon’s blog article of October 12, “Red Air: America’s Medevac Failure,” contains numerous omissions of key information and errors in fact.
For starters, Yon says the Army lacks the political will to configure its MEDEVAC aircraft like the Air Force’s Combat Search and Rescue “Pedros” (Pedros are armed and do not have the red cross markings on the side of the aircraft). Yon is comparing apples to oranges. The primary mission of the Pedros is to rescue downed aircrews and other isolated personnel; their secondary mission is to support special operations forces. Both of these missions require them to be armed. If available, Pedros do also perform MEDEVAC missions – again, if available. Pedros can’t carry as many litter patients as the Army Dustoffs and there are seven times the numbers of Dustoff helicopters compared to Pedros in
Afghanistan. Yon never mentions these critical points.
Yon’s point that the Army should arm and remove the red cross from its MEDEVAC aircraft fails to acknowledge larger issues. Doing so would place the US outside its commitment to conducting MEDEVACs under the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions and moral norm for how Western nations identify their aircraft dedicated to medical evacuation.
Furthermore, the Pedro’s 7.62 mm or .50 cal. machine gun does provide a level of self-protection but it is not on the level of an accompanying AH-64 Apache carrying 30mm cannon and rockets. The Apache escorts give the MEDEVAC aircraft a much higher level of firepower and protection; something our Soldiers take confidence from when scrambling under fire to evacuate wounded comrades.
As for factual inaccuracies, Yon states that it took 65 minutes to evacuate the Soldier who subsequently died. Not true, the official operational logs show that the mission was wheels down (WD) at the medical treatment facility in 59 minutes; and the MEDEVAC aircraft didn’t come from Kandahar, the Dustoff was launched from nearby FOB Pasab and linked up with its armed Apache escort from Kandahar enroute to the Point of Injury (POI). The fact is that despite extended distances and enemy forces in the area, this evacuation was accomplished under the US standard of one hour. Of the 2240 MEDEVAC missions conducted in the RC-S area of operations since 1 Nov 2010 only 1.5% were Out of Standard and 0% of those were assessed to having a clinical impact on the patient.
Yon also states that commanders on the ground have no discretion to call for a Pedro over an Army medevac – an insinuation that they would if given the choice. Yon fails to mention that all requests for air evacuation are called into a central point in each Regional Command called a Patient Evacuation Coordination Cell (PECC). The PECC receives a MEDEVAC request, then determines the quickest way to get the Category A (CAT A) casualty from the Point of Injury (POI) to a Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) that can provide the appropriate level of medical care for the injuries suffered. The ground force commander does not have the capacity to make this call while in the close fight. The system is designed to allow for the most efficient response across the battle space with the assets of not only our MEDEVAC aircraft, but all rotary wing assets. Commanders understand the requirement for rapid evacuation of our wounded Soldiers and every effort is made to execute the MEDEVAC mission safely and effectively. The highest survival rates in the history of armed conflict bears out this fact. In the RC-S area of operations there have been 2240 MEDEVAC missions since 1 Nov 2010 with a 98% survival rate.
Michael Yon’s omissions of key information and factual errors have done a disservice to our Soldiers and all those who care about them. These inaccuracies may unnecessarily cause some to doubt the US medical evacuation system in Afghanistan. Further, it could undermine Soldier confidence in what should most certainly be described as the world’s finest battlefield evacuation system.