Michael's Dispatches

DELTA Force Commander (former) on DUSTOFF MEDEVAC


30 December 2011
Los Angeles, California

Former Delta Force Commander “Dalton Fury” makes a very informed opinion on the MEDEVAC issue.  Delta is the special forces of our special forces.  Opinions from this community carry significant weight.

(This was published in Soldier of Fortune online.  I’ve highlighted certain portions.)

By SOF Editor on Thu, 12/29/2011 - 5:26pm

History has been made in Iraq and Afghanistan, and unless you are a security contractor or special ops troop, your long months away from home and your family are quickly coming to an end. Our servicemen and women have fought an extraordinary fight against impossible odds and reestablished America’s military prowess around the world.

We’ve learned a great deal in the last 10 years of war, like the immediate power of miscommunication from the battlefield, or the importance of committing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) drone aircraft to an area before going in blind.

At every level of war, from tactical to operational to strategic, we’ve shown exceptional adaptability, mental and physical agility, and a willingness to audible early when the enemy changes their formation at the last second. But for some crazy reason that can only be tied to weak kneed senior leaders, in-service turf wars, and gross politics, there is one thing we still can’t seem to fix, even if it kills. We’ve known for years that the Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters target specifically dressed personnel. They aim for the American advisors that wear uniforms distinctly different in color and shape than their Afghan counterparts. It’s smart on their part and something we should have seen well before it became a problem. Our forces were quick to learn, though, and have been taking steps to prevent standing out to the enemy for years now. The reason is obvious—kill the leader and the masses crumble. They aren’t the first to realize that standing out from the crowd isn’t such a good idea on the battlefield.

Combat medics realized long ago that the enemy knows that killing the medic means the other wounded might die. This is still true on today’s battlefield, especially if the Army medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) helicopter is grounded at the departure airfield by general officer policy number whatever because it must wait for an armed escort before launching.

Two thousand years ago, if a warrior was wounded in battle, he bled out where he lay. Nobody was coming to help. Fast forward about 18 centuries and some bright guy in Napoleon’s ranks decided it was a good idea to employ the “inept and expendable” troops to serve as aid and litter teams.

In our grandfathers’ life time, WWII and Korean War front line medics wore red crosses on their helmets and red arm bands to distinguish themselves from their fighting peers. The Korean War also ushered in helicopters flying in to evacuate the wounded from the tip of the spear back to surgical field hospitals. In Vietnam these same helicopters started to bring medics with them to allow life saving measures to begin in flight back to higher level care.

At some point, at least by Vietnam, these helicopters started flying into hot areas with red crosses painted on their sides and noses. Of course, shooting at anything with a red cross is like shooting into a mosque window. We all know that because we follow rules. We just don’t do it, unless there are obvious reasons to believe the building is no longer functioning as a no-fire structure, like an RPG rocket was fired at you from an upper window. We learned about 55 years ago that it was stupid to have American combat medics continue to paint identifying red crosses on their helmet or wear red arm bands. Why? Because our WWII and Korean War troops were sniped at by enemy sharpshooters. The enemy didn’t follow our gentlemen rules. They baited our medics and medical evacuation helicopters and tried to shoot them down.

Today, in the 10-year long war in Afghanistan, the enemy continues to bait our medical helicopters just as they do our Special Forces troops dressed differently from their Afghan counterparts. The Taliban are smart enough to know that the helicopters with the red crosses are unarmed.

By the time Vietnam rolled around somebody decided the medics should carry a gun along with their aid bag. More important than the weapon, some leader somewhere decided to stop highlighting American medics on the front lines and removed the red crosses from the helmets and tossed the red arm bands. It took a while, but it got done for the right reasons. Okay, quick review. Old school—medics used to stand out like a sore thumb, unarmed, but expected to come to a wounded soldier’s aid. Smart school—medics are armed, dressed like every other soldier, and expected to come to a wounded soldier’s aid. Simple, right?

Then why is it that our Army MEDEVAC helicopters are still required to fly into battle with the same identifying red crosses that our grandfathers and fathers figured were stupid and removed from our ground medic’s uniforms? Why aren’t the same Army helicopters armed yet? Moreover, why are the Air Force and Marine MEDEVAC helicopters not flying with identifying red crosses but also flying with mini-guns? The answer appears to boil down to turf wars within the Army organization itself.

None of my commanders would have ever asked a medic to don a red cross on his helmet, or a red arm band, or to dress differently from everyone else. Today, most soldiers carry an individual med kit to save their own life while their mates continue the fight or secure the target. Troops are not taught to lie there in agony and simply bleed out if they still have the mental and physical capacity to stop their own bleeder with Curlex and a tourniquet.

They call it “self-aid.” If things are generally okay in the immediate area, your buddy might be able to lend a hand. Once the actual medic gets to your position, your chances of survival shoot way up. Stabilizing and prepping for transport become the priority here until the ground commander can bring in a helicopter to evacuate the casualty.

As a commander, I wouldn’t consider asking a helicopter to fly in to accept a casualty until, in my best judgment, the threat to the helicopter was mitigated.

Even dedicated ISR and gunship support can’t be 100 percent sure that there is not a threat. A single AK round or RPG rocket can take out a helo inbound and miles away from the urgent casualty.

Urban sprawls and rocky mountain ridges along the typically long flight path provide numerous hiding spots for enemy gunners just waiting for the sound of an incoming helo.

An Apache escort might be able to ruin the enemy gunner’s day, but that is reactive, and the damage to the Army MEDEVAC they are escorting might already be done.

My radio transmission might sound like this.

You this is Me, request CASEVAC ASAP, location marked by IR strobe, over.

Um, uh, negative Me, please specify exactly which type of helicopter do you need. Do you need an Army MEDEVAC, or an Air Force Pedro, or a DUSTOFF, or a Marine asset, over.”

You this is Me, whichever one can get here the fastest to save this brave American’s life, over.

The point here is that warriors rely on speed to survive, both on the assault and after they’ve been hit. If Army policy in Afghanistan is to wait for an armed escort before the red cross-marked MEDEVAC can fly, then the answer is obvious. Remove the identifying red crosses to appease the Geneva Convention and arm the aircraft for self-defense. The enemy doesn’t care about the Geneva Conventions or any laws of land warfare.

Haven’t we at least learned that after 10 years of war?

It’s time for some courageous Army general to stand up and correct this before our current wars end and the next one starts. They might even take some recommendations from the Air Force and Marine leaders that solved this same problem years ago.

Just as some courageous general stood up, put politics aside, and removed the red arm bands and red crosses from our medics’ helmets some five decades ago, it seems a no-brainer that a current serving Army general officer do likewise.

Dalton Fury is the NYT bestselling author of Kill Bin Laden and the new, fictional Delta Force thriller, Black Site, available 01.31.12.

Article by Dalton Fury

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tom Suttles · 8 years ago
    It was a court martial offense to go unarmed ANYWHERE in Korea during that conflict, if you were a Navy Corpsman or a Marine. We had no access to any red cross armbands and certainly would never have worn one anyway. Our chopper pilots had no armor or armaments since they just weren't developed yet but they had a lot of guts! The officers I served with were more concerned about taking their objective with the lowest loss possible. The Army during the Korean war were way undertrained and lacking in weapons and their use.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Martin D. Brown · 8 years ago
    Dear Mr Yon,

    I suspect you may have used 'inertia' by mistake at the beginning of this piece.

    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon Author · 8 years ago

      Thank you. I did mean inertia but I also see now how that is not the best word choice. Switching it to "weight." Thanks for that catch.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ron Rogers · 8 years ago
    He was one of the team leaders in Delta, but not the commander of Delta. At least that's what he says in his book. I believe that he was a Major in Afghanistan and may have retired as an LTC. The commander of Delta was a Colonel and may now be a BG slot.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon Author · 8 years ago

      Thank you for this note. Clarification: saying "Delta Commander" is not synonymous with saying “the Commander of Delta,” or “the Delta Force Commander.” Likewise, an Infantry Commander might be a Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Brigade Commander, Division Commander, etc.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack Reynolds · 8 years ago
    This type of problem with obvious solution has always been with us. As a vet with exposure to the nonsense that contributed to the "acceptable casualty figures" of military history it is time for the Pentagon to develop a think tank of military and civilian participants to analyze losses and prevent them in the future. The unnecessary casualtys whether D Day or the Indianapolis perpetuate to this day. There are solutions!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve · 8 years ago
    He speaks the plain truth on this subject, there is no way to argue against it. As far as he himself is concerned, my judgement is reserved.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan Selley · 8 years ago
    When you watch a Dustoff launch and you know it's going after another soldier, you'll always wonder if it's someone you know. But that shouldn't matter. What should matter is that you should know that it'll get there ASAP. If it has to wait for an armed escort that's politics that hurts the soldier. That's what needs to be fixed.
    I've been there and I've seen it. I want to know that these soldiers are getting the best they can get when the call is made. It's as simple as that.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Allan Brock · 8 years ago
    This is so stupid! Why can't someone do something that "makes sense" and remove the red crosses???
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kurt Olney · 8 years ago
    Michael, keep posting articles and facts on this Army Red Cross silliness. If Air Force and Marines do not do it, the Army should not do it. How many lives have we lost because of this? And how many of our wounded were delayed medical treatment that could have minimized loss of limb, or even their lives.

    Kurt Olney
    Vista California
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack Reynolds · 8 years ago
    The star on the side of military aircraft has been modified significantly over the years. Why? Because it was an aiming target. Time to at least minimize the cross.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Unknown2U · 8 years ago
    I served as a AVN TF CDR less than a year ago in Afghanistan. No way would I hold up a MEDEVAC mission for a CAT A because the threat was either moderate or high just becuase I couldn't get an Apache or Kiowa to escort. I also had AF assets cover areas and pick Army guys up if the need was there. This article is not accurate. Again, as a TF CDR I made calls to get guys without escorts ~ thats why they have a position called a commander.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    William Sypher · 4 years ago
    If you want to the fastest to save a life call VietNam DUSTOFF. Less than 2 minute launch, any where, any time, any weather, any LZ.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    VN · 3 years ago
    There are two mottos used to describe the Dustoff/Medevac ethos:
    "This we do, that others may live" and
    "No Compromise - No Rationalization - No Hesitation - Fly the mission NOW"

    We weren't supposed to go in unless the LZ was secure, and/or we had gunship support. We rarely had either, but we ALWAYS went in, regardless!

    My personal mantra was and remains:
    "If you fall in battle, I WILL come for you!"
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matilda · 2 years ago
    The story is advised over the course of 15 chapters.

    My site; final fantasy
    xv a new empire: https://www.npmjs.com/package/finalfantasyxvhacknosurvey

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